“Challenging, interesting, rewarding, frustrating, testing, I’ve had some great times managing, but I’ve had some bad times, such as stress last season when we were second bottom at Christmas,” Stocksbridge Park Steels boss Chris Hilton says as he reflects on a decade in management.
An accidental Messiah for Worsbrough Bridge having ended up in the hot-seat in June 2010, initially for a few months as joint manager with Ian Shirt, after Mick Norbury left to join Harrogate Railway as Nigel Danby’s assistant.
Bridge had just finished bottom with 20 points and over four years Frickley Athletic legend Hilton turned them into a force to be reckoned with – with the unbeaten home record during the 2012/13 campaign being the top landmark.
Stocksbridge came calling in 2014 and Hilton has been their pillar of stability at Bracken Moor. The Steels have consistently performed well in the Northern Premier League and developed players – most notably Harrison Biggins who was sold to Fleetwood Town in 2017.
“No I didn’t think I would have managed for the full decade, I only went to do a bit of coaching at Worsbrough, that was all, just to help Micky Norbury out,” Hilton tells Non League Yorkshire.
“That was my only intention and I kind of fell into management and been there ever since.
“We had some great times at Worsbrough when we had no budget and everyone played for free.
“Everyone was together and we had a great set-up and we did really well. A lot of the lads who were in that team have played in the Northern Premier League since and rightly so because they were a good group of lads.
“My highlight of the last ten years has to be the year we went unbeaten at home.
“If you go one whole season unbeaten at home in any Division is a fantastic achievement and I don’t think it will be matched again.
“I don’t think I’ll do it again as a manager and while I hope they do I don’t think Worsbrough will do it again. The Stocksbridge team getting to the play-offs is another (highlight) and so is the list of players who I have had who have gone onto play higher.
“Harrison Biggins was fantastic for us and there’s other players who are playing higher now.
“I’ve had some great times at Stocksbridge, six seasons.
“It has been a good rollercoaster ride.”
Another staple of Hilton’s decade in management has not just been his well-profiled commitment to Worsbrough and then Stocksbridge, but also his loyalty to his players.
Steels captain Liam McFadyen has been side-by-side with Hilton man and boy throughout the decade, while well-known players such as Lee Garside, Martyn Scully, Chris White and Scott Ruthven played for both clubs.
“It is about getting the balance,” he said.
“I show loyalty and I expect loyalty back and a lot of players do. There has been times with the Worsbrough lads who followed me to Stocksbridge when it was right to move them on, but you have to do it the right time.
“We have had a lot of players for three or four years, maybe more, but when we take players we want to work with them and develop them.
“We don’t bring players in for two or three games to then move them out. We bring people in because we believe there is potential to make them a better player.
“That’s what we try and do.”
In the here and now, Stocksbridge are stuck in a rut. Although the Steels occupy a top half position, injuries have stalled their season.
Hilton had a number of players missing for the New Year’s Day defeat to Glossop North End because of a mixture of illness and injury.
“We have lost the last four league games, but I thought against Glossop we showed a bit more character,” he said.
“It has been disappointing. Frickley away, I thought we were better team, but second half we were poor and Frickley deserved to win it.
“But we are in a far place than we were at this stage last season. We were second bottom at this point, now we’re eighth, four points off the play-offs.
“We have a lot of injuries and if we get people back on the pitch, we’ll have another push and see where it takes us.
“I’m not getting ahead of ourselves because it is a new team, youngish team and they have done brilliant so far. We’re just in a dip and we need to get out of it.
“The injuries don’t help, but when you’re losing games confidence goes down. We want the lads to get on the ball and be brave and when you’re low on confidence it is a little harder to do.
“We’re playing against some big organised sides who stop us from playing.”
Stocksbridge make the journey to Sheffield FC tomorrow.