Under-18s Head Coach Steve Wigley has had his side playing fantastic football so far this season and, in many ways, it’s no surprise when you take a look at his impressive CV.
From playing under Brian Clough, to managing the England Under-21s alongside Stuart Pearce, we sat down with Steve to take a look at his extraordinary career.
Our Under-18s boss started his playing days as a tricky winger at local side Curzon Ashton. At the age of 21, he received interest from a number of clubs, but just couldn’t turn down a move to a formidable Nottingham Forest side.
“It was quite strange actually,” Steve admitted. “I played for Curzon Ashton and received interest first from Crewe Alexandra. They offered to sign me after a game and then I went to Wigan the following week and a similar thing happened.
“We just decided to wait and I went into Forest, played a game, went back for a week and then I was fortunate to have a choice of two or three clubs. One was Manchester City but we chose Forest. They’d won the European Cup the year before I joined.”
Perhaps the main factor influencing Steve’s decision was the opportunity to work with Clough.
“He was a man you felt could walk on water really. He had that type of presence and was probably the most famous manager in football at the time. What he’d done at Forest to win the league and two European Cups with a provincial side was unheard of.”
It would be easy to be overawed joining the European Champions and working with a personality as strong as Brian Clough, and Steve admits that he found it difficult initially. His experience as a young player taught him lessons he has since taken into management.
“When I joined, it was overwhelming at first, for the first four months if I’m honest. I always bear that in mind today when young players join the group. It’s not easy to settle in. I’d gone from a non-league club to a club that had won the European Cup and I was thinking to myself, what am I doing here?”
His Football League debut came against Arsenal in October 1982 but his best season under Clough came a year later. He featured in 39 games in all competitions in a season which saw his side finish third in the First Division and a Semi-Final spot in Europe.
“I played in the Forest reserve side for a good two-and-a-half years before I got my opportunity and wondered if I’d ever be good enough. He seemed to sign at least 10 right wingers before I ever got the chance, so I think I was a last resort!”
He continued: “But I got my chance and played in a good side that finished third in the league and qualified for Europe two or three times. We got to the Semi-Finals of the UEFA Cup which in itself was a story.
“We came up against a very good Anderlecht side and we knew we’d been robbed on the night. We found out five or six years later that the referee had taken a bribe. That was probably the closest I came to winning anything there.”
The volatile and transient nature of life for a professional footballer then became very apparent to Steve as his time at Forest came to a sudden end.
“The following year I found myself on my way to Sheffield United, which was a shock. I bought a house in Nottingham and then got that call telling me I was being sold. Even though I didn’t want to go, the gaffer could be very persuasive and I was soon on my way to Sheffield.”
The Yorkshire outfit were on a strong run when Steve joined and he found himself on the outskirts of the squad early on. He picked up a groin injury which kept him off the pitch for over a year and at one point, it looked career ending.
“Stuart Gray, who was one of my best friends from my time at Forest, kept advising me to see this physio. I went to see the physio; a blind man in Barnsley who had a great reputation. I was on the verge of having an operation and he saved my career basically.
“I’ve never been in so much pain in my life and I can honestly say I could never have gone back to see him again! His thumbs and his hands were that strong but following his diagnosis and treatment I was back playing in six weeks. I thought he was crazy but he saved my career basically.”
Steve later had spells with Birmingham City, Portsmouth (where he was signed by World Cup legend Alan Ball) and Exeter City. Throughout his career, he made 340 appearances, scoring 20 goals in the process.
He spent half a season playing for Bognor Regis before making the decision to venture into management in January 1995. He became manager at non-league side Aldershot Town and enjoyed a successful first season at the Surrey based club.
“I enjoyed that spell, it was a smashing club,” he said. “We missed out on promotion in the first year on goal difference and then I got the opportunity towards the back end of that second year to work with Paul Hart, who had done a fantastic job at Leeds United. He put in place a superb youth system with players like Harry Kewell, Alan Smith and Jonathan Woodgate coming through.
“He was going back to Forest to do a similar thing and he asked me to join him. I really wanted to learn from somebody who was the best in the business in my eyes. It was the best decision I ever made,” he added.
“I’ll be forever thankful for that year. It was frustrating just standing there watching but I would advise anyone to take up the opportunity to learn from the very best. I had three years with Paul and we had a very successful youth team which saw a lot of good talent come out of it. Players like David Prutton, Andy Reid, Michael Dawson, Marlon Harewood, so we had a productive time there.”
After a stint with the Forest Under-23s, Steve moved up to the First Team with David Platt but the management team soon went their separate ways. Luckily for Steve, the stars aligned, and another great opportunity arose.
“There was a lot of staff leaving Forest and at the same time, Stuart [Gray] became manager at Southampton. He offered me the opportunity to go in and do a similar job with the reserve side and I was fortunate enough to do the England Under-21s at the same time with David [Platt]. These were all great experiences.
“We had a very successful period at Southampton and worked with a lot of players that went on to have great careers. We had players like Andrew Surman, who still plays for Bournemouth today, Theo Walcott, Adam Lallana and Gareth Bale, so I was at the right club at the right time.”
Steve worked with [Stuart] Pearce at Manchester City as Assistant Manager/First Team Coach before the pair went on to work together for the England Under-21s. Our Under-18s Head Coach has fond memories of his time working for the national team.
“I was lucky enough to do it for six years in total and, in that time, I went to four European Championship Finals where we always qualified. Any chance you get as a coach to work with the best players in the country, you take. We qualified for the Euros with players like John Terry, Woodgate and Ledley King. There’s your three centre halves.”
He added, “I look back on that time and think, wow.”
He joined the Whites in 2012 and got off to a strong start, winning both the Dallas Cup and the U18s Premier league.
“When I came in we had some good young players and had a successful period with players like Moussa Dembélé, Marek Rodák, Patrick Roberts. I’ve also been very fortunate to come in with some really good staff.
“The most rewarding thing about my job is the volume of people you meet and work with. I keep bumping into players that I coached 20 years ago who have now got families and kids and have stayed in the game for a long time with success. You constantly reminisce and that’s the beauty of this game.”