Ashley Wilkes announces his retirement from football after 14-year spell with FC Stratford
LOYALTY in football can be hard to come by at times and the word legend is banded about at free will, but Ashley Wilkes will certainly go down in the FC Stratford history books as one of the greats after announcing he was hanging up the boots.
Wilkes has been at the club right from the very start and in those 14 years he has amassed around 325 appearances and scored 194 goals, missing out on the magic 200 because the striker moved to left-back later in his career.
Although the 33-year-old from Bidford had short spells with Alcester Town, Stratford Town and Alveston, he’s always been registered to FC and it’s here where he enjoyed his football the most.
But there’s always a time when the boots have to be hung up and for Wilkes, the decision was ultimately made for him in the end.
Speaking to the Herald, he said: “To be honest, I had thoughts about retiring from the start of the season. I had a lot of niggling injuries, especially with my calf, and I always said if I got to that point where I could not perform at my best then I’d stop.
“Ultimately those injuries made the decision a little easier for me. It’s always a hard decision to retire because I love football and I have been with FC Stratford for the last 14 years.
“I’ve loved playing for the club, but in my head I was never going to be one of those players that kept playing until they were 35 or 36.
"Once the levels of my performance started to drop I knew it’d be time to hang the boots up.”
Having started out in college football, Wilkes then spent his early days turning out for Tiddington FC at FISSC on Sundays.
From here club chiefs decided to create a Saturday team, with Pete Stephens playing an instrumental part in the formation of Stratford Town A, which would later become FC Stratford following the conclusion of the 2010-11 campaign.
Wilkes has seen all the highs and lows FC Stratford have gone through since their formation and admitted it was the whole nature of the club which led to him staying there for so long.
“For me loyalty is a massive thing, not just in football but in life too,” he said.
“Some people may say staying at FC Stratford for so long has hampered my progression, but for me it was the people at the club that made me want to stay there for so long.
"I’ve got to give a huge thanks to Pete Stephens because without him, I would not have had the pleasure of playing for FC Stratford.
“The people at the club kept me there and I loved it. I probably could have played at a higher level, but it’s just one of those things. Would I want to change things if I could start again?
“Probably not, I’d do exactly the same. I’m a big believer in having no regrets in football and I certainly don’t regret staying at FC Stratford for the past 14 years.”
Looking back at his time with FC, Wilkes has plenty of cherished memories, but said a penalty shoot-out victory over higher-ranked Redditch Borough in the semi-finals of the Les James Challenge Cup was a particular highlight.
Unfortunately, due to a rule that wasn’t picked up by anyone, FC were removed from the competition and denied the chance of playing at Walsall’s Bescot Stadium after captain James Robbins played for Studley earlier in the season.
“We were massive underdogs and the celebrations after the shoot-out and in the dressing room were amazing to be a part of,” said Wilkes.
“We were missing a few players so essentially it was a scratch team, but we managed to win and I scored a couple of goals too. It’s a shame we got removed from the cup, but it’s a game I’ll always remember.”
On the best players he’s played alongside during his time in football, Wilkes said: “In terms of FC Stratford, Dean Poulson is probably the best I’ve played alongside at the club.
"He’s an incredible player and he reminds me of myself in a way because he’s one of those lads that when he feels at home he’s happy to stay put.
“Overall, I’d say Tyrone Fagan was the best player I’ve played with. He was well known on the non-league circuit and really helped me settle in when I joined Stratford Town.
“He made me feel really comfortable. There’s so many stand-out players, but to me Dean and Tyrone stick out the most.”
Wilkes plans to stay in the game and is now entering the world of coaching at fellow Hellenic League Division One side Pershore Town, managed by former FC bosses Danny Janes and Tom Milward.
However, he’s not ruled out a potential return in the future.
“Doing some coaching at Pershore is something new for me to get involved in,” he added. “I’m going there to learn the ropes, but who knows, I might come back to FC Stratford again in the future.”