For somebody whose football career was ravaged by numerous knee injuries, it is more than a little ironic that Simon Wiles’ potential was initially spotted during his first game back from a spell on the sidelines after a knee complaint.
The current Bamber Bridge assistant manager was just 13-years-old when his footballing development was temporarily halted by Osgood-Schlatter disease.
A common condition among growing adolescents, the disease occurs during growth spurts, especially when physical exercise puts extra strain on bones, muscles, tendons, and other structures of the body.
Stood on the sidelines as his junior team Lancon played every weekend, Preston-born Wiles watched on admiringly – and slightly enviously – as the team’s star striker John Fenech smashed in the goals.
Fenech’s burgeoning talent soon began to attract interest and he was snapped up on schoolboy forms by Blackpool.
The Tangerines continued to monitor the striker and fortunately for Wiles a scout was in attendance when he made his long-awaited comeback against Gregson Lane Juniors.
“It’s funny how football works,” said Wiles.
“I was playing junior football for Lancon, but I was actually out of the side through injury, which is a little bit ironic with the way my career turned out.
“I had Osgood-Schlatter disease which is condition where your body grows too quickly for your muscles. We had a player call John Fenech, who was banging the goals in for fun every week.
“He ended up getting picked up by Blackpool, but I remember watching him on the sidelines thinking, ‘I wish I could play with John’.
“The Blackpool scout who had scouted John ended up coming back to watch the team on my first game back.
“We played Gregson Lane and I must have done well because I got a call that night asking me to come training at Blackpool with John.
“That’s how it all started when I was 13-years-old.
“I look back now and think, ‘If it hadn’t been for John coming to Lancon and scoring all these goals while I was out injured, who knows where I might have ended up’?
“We both ended up getting youth team contracts and I was lucky enough to get signed on professionally.
“John is my best mate now and he’s been successful with what he’s gone on to do .
“So it is funny how things work out sometimes.”
Wiles, who attended Archbishop Temple High School, in Fulwood, made his Blackpool debut at the age of 18.
Despite suffering a number of cruciate knee ligament injuries, Wiles – who is now aged 31 – went on to make nearly 40 appearances for the Tangerines.
He eventually left in 2006 – shown the door by current Preston boss Simon Grayson, who had taken on his first managerial role at Bloomfield Road.
“Simon Grayson was the right-back when I was playing on the right wing for Blackpool,” said Wiles, who revealed he got loads of stick for signing and playing for Blackpool from his North End-supporting mates.
“Simon was really good to me. He gave me a lot of advice on areas of my game where I could get better.
“When he became caretaker manager, I played in his first game in charge.
“It was a 5-2 win over Scunthorpe live on Sky.
“When Simon got the job full-time, he wanted to bring his own players in , which at the time I was a bit gutted about because I felt it was my time to start kicking on.
“But I understand, especially now since I’ve got into coaching and management, that Simon needed to stamp his own mark on the team.
“You can’t argue with what he’s done in his managerial career.
“He’s done very well, winning promotion with every team that he’s been at.
“He’s doing great with Preston now and I still see him from time to time and have a chat with him.
“I speak to Thommo (PNE first-team coach Steve Thompson) and we touch base every so often.
“I’ve certainly no hard feelings.”
After leaving Blackpool, Wiles later played for Macclesfield and Scottish outfit Dunfermline.
But it was in 2010 when he experienced, arguably, the highlight of his career when he played on the hallowed turf of Wembley for National League outfit Barrow in the final of the FA Trophy against Stevenage Borough, who were managed by future PNE boss Graham Westley.
After going an early goal behind, the Cumbrians hit back to win 2-1, with current Chorley striker Jason Walker hitting the winner in extra time.
“Wembley was surreal to be honest,” said Wiles, who has also played for Chorley and Salford City.
“ I just remember stand ing in the centre circle with Jason Walker and Andy Bond, who was at Chorley but is at Fylde now, the day before the game. We were just stood there, speechless really, looking at this massive bowl of a stadium.
“The pitch was an absolute corker too. It was great being involved in the cup final and everything that came along with it.
“I wanted to walk out with the mascot on the red carpet; line-up and sing the national anthem and then get out on the pitch for the game.
“I was lucky enough to start the game and it was just an amazing experience.
“It’s funny though – once the game started, you kind of forget about everything, the fact that you are playing at Wembley and the amount of people who were watching.
There were 20,000 in the stands that day. It’s crazy really, but you just concentrate on the game and don’t really stop to think that you’re playing at Wembley.
“I did cramp up early in the first half, so I kind of knew all the energy was being sapped out of me due to the size of the pitch.
“That is a sign that obviously the occasion is taking over, but I managed to recover and I like to think I did well in the first half.
“I eventually came off after 65 minutes and we managed to win 2-1.”
Looking to kick on with his career at Barrow the following season, disaster struck once more for Wiles when he snapped the cruciate ligament in his left knee 10 games in.
Straight away Wiles knew that moment signalled the end of his professional career at the age of 26.
“We played Forest Green on the Saturday and won 3-0,” said Wiles, who has undergone seven knee operations in total.
“I had scored two, which was a bit unlike me, and we had started the season really well.
“But the following Tuesday, it was Altrincham away and that’s when my left knee went. It had always been the right knee that I had problems with but as soon as the left knee went, I just thought, ‘That’s it, that is me finished with in the pro game’.”