By Hugo Varley,
Since the turn of the millennium Northwich Victoria have endured quite a ride.
Previous years have featured stints of administration, a ground eviction, a fractured fans base which lead to the formation of a breakaway club, a spectacular slide down the Non-League pyramid…oh and a former owner being put in prison.
A scroll through the club’s recent history makes for rather sombre reading.
The Vics left their infamous Drill Field home after 127 years in 2002 in search of a ground that would be better equipped for Conference football, however their stint at the new Victoria Stadium was ultimately short lived.
After ownership of the ground fell out of the club’s control, the site was eventually sold to a chemical manufacturing company in 2012, leaving Northwich facing the prospect of a nomadic life, which they continue to lead to this day.
Meanwhile a succession of ill-fated takeovers sparked years of financial trouble, which directly led to the Cheshire club eventually dropping down to Step 5 in 2017.
However, as the sun beat down during the summer of 2017, a bright ray of hope suddenly appeared on the horizon.
Shortly after his father and former Vics owner Jim was sentenced to six years in prison for conspiring to supply Class A drugs, Martin Rushe relinquished his hold over the administration struck club, with the Supporters’ Trust moving in take control.
“It was an absolutely brilliant moment” said Vice Chairman Ian Egerton.
“The club had been through such a turbulent period and it got to the point where we felt that we needed to step in to safeguard its immediate future.
“I have been an avid fan of the club all through my life and the meeting where we formally took control was completely surreal. I walked in as a fan and came out a few minutes later as the Vice-Chairman.
“It really felt like a dark chapter in our history had finally been closed and we could start making strides forward once again”.
Since taking over before the start of last season, the supporter led board have made huge strides in reversing the Vics’ decline both on and off the pitch and helping to re-establish the once firm link between the club and its local community.
Egerton added, “We couldn’t be more proud about what is happening because there is a really special atmosphere around the place at the moment.
“Support had dwindled because the club spent a long time out of the local area, ground sharing in places that were difficult for fans to get to like Stafford.
“Now that we are sharing with Witton Albion and are back in the Northwich area, it has allowed us to engage much more with the local community. The club is ultimately there for the town to enjoy and feel a part of and it has been great to see more and more people coming through the gates.
“We want to run things properly and avoid the mistakes of previous owners. We are completely debt free at the moment and we know that we have a bright future ahead of us.
“On the field, things are heading in a very exciting direction.
“Steve Wilkes has done a brilliant job as manager. When he walked in for the interview, which was the first set of interviews that we did after taking over the club, it was immediately clear that he was the right man for the job.
“He has got a superb knowledge of the leagues at this level and has such a passion and enthusiasm for the game.
“You can read allot from someone’s character and Steve is so likeable and has played a big role in helping to make the club feel like one big family again”.
After moving into the managerial hot seat in September 2017 the former Darwen and Padiham boss guided the Vics to a comfortable mid table finish in last season’s North West Counties Premier Division, while an impressive recruitment drive over the summer has seen the club rise to 6th this year.
Wilkes said, “When I left Padiham in 2017 I had it in my mind that that may well have been my final job.
“It was therefore going to take something very special to tempt me back into the game but when the opportunity to come to Northwich came about, it was something that I just couldn’t turn down.
“The history and support base of this club is absolutely amazing and I am going to work so hard to try and bring back the glory days.
“My original task was just to ensure that the team stayed in the division, which I knew was going to be a challenge.
“When I first arrived I ran a training session and within 10 minutes three players were being sick. It was clear that major changes were needed.
“I sat down with the Chairman and told him that the squad we had was not good enough to stay up.
“Now we have managed to completely overhaul the playing staff and turned the team into a unit that is more than capable of competing near the top of the league”.
While Northwich’s league form has been a cause for celebration, the Vicks biggest achievement of the season so far has been their run to the last 16 of the FA Vase.
A hard fought victory against the odds at Newcastle Benfield in the last round has set up an equally tricky trip to Histon on Saturday but Wilkes is relishing the test.
He added, “No one gave us a chance in the previous round but we did our homework, worked hard and came away with the result.
“To be honest we probably should have won by more and if we play like that against Histon then I am confident that we can certainly stay in the competition.
“What is going on here is absolutely amazing to be a part of. The fans have had to go through so much in the last few years and it is brilliant to see them invested in and passionate about the club again.
“I saw grown men crying after the Newcastle Benfield game. It shows just how much this club means to a lot of people.
“We took over 150 fans to Newcastle and I think there will be even more on Saturday so they will certainly play the role of 12th man”.
A victory this weekend would put Northwich just two wins away from an unforgettable trip to Wembley but has the Vics boss dared to dream quite yet?
“I would be lying if I said I hadn’t thought about it” admitted Wilkes.
“I think when anyone gets to this point in the competition they do sometimes close their eyes and imagine themselves walking out under the arch.
“To get to Wembley would be such an amazing moment and would be the perfect way for the club to announce themselves as a force in Non-League football again.
“Whatever happens this weekend, the club are on their way back and I absolutely love being a part of it”.
Tagged Northwich Victoria FC