Glenn Steel’s association with Bamber Bridge has been something of a love affair – in more ways than one!
The 31-year-old defender returned to the Irongate club at the start of this season – several years after leaving.
It was at Brig where Steel first made a name for himself as a no-nonsense defender in semi-professional football.
He then went on to enjoy spells at Kendal Town, AFC Fylde and Lancaster City, before deciding this summer to continue his football career back where it all began for him all those years ago.
Mind you, Steel perhaps did not have much choice in the matter about where his next move was going to be.
Wife Kirsty is a Brig fan and the pair first met at the Sir Tom Finney Stadium during Steel’s initial spell at the club.
In fact, Mrs Steel’s family are significant figures behind the scenes at Brig – her grandad Gerry Lawson is a club stalwart, while mother-in-law Catherine Doherty is on the committee
“I met my wife during my first spell at Brig,” Steel revealed.
“We just used to see each other around the club after games and stuff.
“Her family are heavily involved behind the scenes from a voluntary perspective.
“My mother in law Catherine Doherty is on the committee and the Gerry Lawson Stand is named after my wife’s grandad who, at 85, can still be found everyday down at the club, helping out with everything and anything.
“I can certainly testify that every non-league club needs a whole host of volunteers and this is something that has really endeared me to the game at this level – the people I’ve met and the conversations I’ve had over the years.
“But most importantly, obviously, I met my wife through non-league football.”
The Broughton High School pupil spent around five seasons at Brig during his first spell, which sandwiched his time at Loughborough University where he studied for a masters degree in engineering.
A mainstay of Brig’s back line during those years, Steel helped the team reach the 2008 NPL First Division North play-off semi-final, but they lost to FC United of Manchester 3-2.
He admits that game is both one of the biggest highlights, but also lowest points, of his career.
Playing at Gigg Lane in front of a four-figure crowd was an unbelievable buzz for him, but conceding in the last minute to miss out on the chance of promotion was heartbreaking
“There’s nothing better than promotion chasing games” Steel said.
“The one stand out game for me – for the wrong reasons – is the defeat in the play-off semi-final against FC United for Bamber Bridge at Gigg Lane.
“FC United scored the winner in the 95th minute in front of a huge crowd, it was a brilliant atmosphere and just a bridge too far for a team that came so close to winning promotion.
“I hate losing and that loss will haunt me forever.”
Steel must have had some explaining to do to the missus and the in-laws when he decided to sever his ties with Brig and head to Kendal Town in 2010.
Although he was sad to leave, he wanted to test himself at the highest level possible and Kendal at the time were in a division higher.
“There was no pressure from the family to stay or to come back,” Steel said.
“They always knew I would move on at some stage.
“It was more stick off some fans for leaving although it was all light-hearted stuff
“I’ve generally moved between clubs because I always wanted to play at the highest standard of football possible.
“This was strongly influenced by my dad Tony, who drummed into me from an early age that if I was going to dedicate so much time to playing non-league, it should be worthwhile and enjoyable.
“Non-League football places a big burden on your life, so the least you need to do is enjoy it.
“I did go to Fylde first on loan towards the end of my last season at Brig.
“That was just a matter of circumstance at the time.
“Brig had nothing to play for and Fylde were close to getting promoted. They needed to bring somebody in because they lost somebody through injury.
“I think I played the last five or six games of that season with them.
“It was that summer that I decided I was leaving Brig and that’s when I went to Kendal Town.
“That was a chance to play at a higher level and I got to the NPL Premier Division play-offs with Kendal, but we lost that one too.
“The play-offs haven’t been too kind to me over the years.”
After his time working under Lee Ashcroft at Kendal came to an end, Steel signed for Fylde once more – this time on a permanent basis
He was the skipper as Dave Challinor’s men stormed to the NPL First Division North title in 2012.
“AFC Fylde promotion from the First Division North was a great moment,” Steel said.
“To be captain of this team was definitely a highlight of my career.
“As a team we were formidable and ended the season with something like a 23-game unbeaten run.
“A few of the lads I played with are still playing for Fylde and they are doing well in the Conference North.”
The Coasters are just two steps away from Football League status and Steel believes the club will get there at some point in the future.
“Fylde will get into the Football League – it’s just a question of when,” he said.
“I really enjoyed my time there, played under a couple of good managers and as a club they have a good structure and a good hierarchy.”
After a stint at Lancaster, Steel is thrilled to be back at Brig and believes the club can win promotion this season.
He was an interested spectator last season as the club were narrowly beaten by Ramsbottom United in last season’s play-off final.
“The manager Neil Crowe and his assistant Neil Reynolds and all the back room staff have done a fantastic job pulling a good set of lads together,” he added.
“They work with us constantly to improve us as a squad.
“It’s a really enjoyable time for me at the moment and a lot of this is down to the mix of lads Crowey has been able to bring in.
“The club is definitely going in the right direction.
“I firmly believe we deserve to be in the division above, but getting out of this division is very tough. In actual fact, I think the First Division North is a tougher this year than the Premier.
“We can achieve promotion, without a doubt, and that belief is throughout the team.”
Being a Preston lad, Steel can also appreciate playing alongside former North End star Paul McKenna, who signed for the club earlier this year.
“From a non-league perspective, Dave Leaver –the Brig legend – has to be right up there as the best I have played with but Paul McKenna has to be the best.
“Over the years many professionals have dropped into non-league but often they can find it difficult to adapt to the non-league game.
“McKenna has just been different class, he’s really raised the bar at Brig and sometimes it’s like chasing shadows in training.
“It’s funny because we all give Chris ‘Marvin’ Marlow stick in the dressing room about McKenna being one of his heroes so I will probably get a few digs for saying this.”
At one time, Steel had dreams of following in the footsteps of McKenna and wearing the white shirt of North End.
On schoolboy terms from the age of 10, Steel was released by the club at the age of 16.
“My dad was a local football coach, managing Fulwood Colts youth teams.
“When my older brothers Craig and Wayne –were growing up – I was often the self-appointed mascot/ballboy for each game.
“I think from this point on my ambition was always to play football, so when I signed for PNE at 10, I lived that dream until I was released at 16.
“It was emotional for me not to be signed on but my dad and mum Lesley had always kept my feet firmly on the ground.
“My dad has been unquestionably the most influential figure in my time in football.
“We are a sporting family, My two older brothers played for Preston Grasshoppers first team for many years and between them have a large number of appearances.
“So in recent years my dad always split his time between football and rugby.
“But when I was young, my parents supported me by travelling everywhere and as I’ve grown older my dad, who is also my biggest critic hardly ever misses a game, has been amazing and is still a massive influence on the way I play today.”
As well as his non-league achievements, Steel is also proud to have represented his country while at university.
He was picked for England Universities team, but unfortunately a bad injury restricted his appearances.
“Playing for England University side was another proud moment.
“Having captained the Loughborough university team I was selected to represent England in a tri-nations event,” said Steel, who has worked at BAE Systems for 15 years since leaving school and now works as an engineering manager on the Typhoon Jet .
“But due to a back injury I had to pull out. I did manage to play a couple of friendlies though
“I had slipped two discs in my lower back, which meant a significant operation and a lengthy lay off,.
“At one point the surgeon suggested I would not be able to play contact sport again, but after 12 months out of the game I decided to start training with Brig again.
“It still gives me problems to this day but I am able to manage it.”
After a disappointing 2-1 defeat against Clitheroe on Tuesday, which saw Brig go out of the LFA Challenge Trophy, Steel now turns his attentions to today’s league fixture against high-flying Darlington 1883.
“We were unfortunate in the defeat to Clitheroe,” he said.
“I was frustrating first half and they did very well to close us down quickly and stifle our usual fluent play.
“In the second half we should have scored four or five but some games the chances just don’t go in and we were left ruing some awful early defending. “We all wanted to do well in this cup with the attraction of playing at Bolton Wanderers’ ground in the final against our local rivals Chorley.
“But it didn’t happen so we just have to concentrate on the league now. We have got Darlington at home this weekend – probably the biggest game of the season.
“History tells us that against the bigger teams we usually perform well, and I’m hoping this will be the case this weekend. After a few indifferent results of late this is the perfect game against top of the league in my eyes to get us back on track.
Darlington will definitely be up the top end of the table come April, but we fear nobody in this league and as a squad the belief is definitely in us to come away with a win.”