Marc Bridge-Wilkinson: The Port Vale hero tasked with developing the next generation at Liverpool

Two weeks ago, following the promotion of Barry Lewtas to u23 manager, the new u18 boss was announced as Marc Bridge-Wilkinson, promoted from his role in charge of the u16s.

Although he has been a coach at Kirkby for a number of years, many may not know much about the 41-year-old. What is his experience and just how can he help Liverpool’s youth players reach their full potential?

Bridge-Wilkinson started his playing career as a product of Derby County’s youth academy and quickly stepped up to the senior team. He made only one appearance before going on loan to Carlisle United, but that match actually happened to be a victory against Liverpool at Anfield in 1998. His stint at Carlisle proved a reasonable success, but he truly came into his own following a move to Port Vale in 2000.

At the Stoke-on-Trent-based club, Bridge-Wilkinson scored 31 goals in 124 appearances — an impressive feat given he was a midfielder. In the 2002/03 season, the then-23-year-old was the club’s highest goal-scorer and continued to impress the following season. The Valiants’ manager, Martin Foyle, offered him a new contract in 2004 but with a greatly-reduced salary due to financial difficulties. Bridge-Wilkinson declined, and joined Stockport County on a two-year contract.

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The midfielder was not with the Hatters for long before he departed on a loan spell to Bradford City that quickly became a permanent move. At Valley Parade his skill and goal-scoring ability proved a great benefit to the team in the first season, but this did not save the West Yorkshire side from relegation into League Two in 2007. Like much of the squad, Bridge-Wilkinson was dropped by the team at the end of this season.

After some joy playing for Carlisle United in the earlier stages of his career, the now 28-year-old returned to his former club, this time for three full seasons. Whilst the first season proved to be a reasonable success, Bridge-Wilkinson suffered a serious toe injury which left him completely out of the 2008/09 campaign. Despite his return the following season, the team were only able to achieve a mid-table finish and the Coventry-born player was left wanting more.

This desire took him to County Durham-based team Darlington, firstly on loan and then on a permanent basis. He proved to be a great asset to the team, scoring a number of goals including a first career hat-trick against Eastbourne Borough in 2011. At the end of the campaign, Darlington travelled to Wembley where they defeated Mansfield Town to lift the FA Trophy. This was certainly a highlight in the midfielder’s career. 

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From extreme highs often come heavy lows, and this was the case for Bridge-Wilkinson and his teammates when the club suffered severe financial difficulties, forcing them to end paid contracts and receive a 10-point administration deduction that resulted in relegation. The midfielder’s playing career came to an end shortly after, despite being spotted at Accrington Stanley’s pre-season training as the new season approached.

The end of his time on the pitch did not mean the end of his involvement in football — he quickly picked up a coaching job at Huddersfield Town, managing the u13s and u14s. He remained in this role for three years, gaining huge respect for his ability to coach and mentor future talent. Being a holder of the FA Advanced Youth Award and having children himself, the ex-midfielder proved brilliant at maximising the potential of young players and soon appeared on Liverpool’s radar. 

He joined the Reds in 2015, taking on the role of the u14s manager. Three years later, when Barry Lewtas was offered the role of u18s coach, Bridge-Wilkinson stepped into the position of u16 boss. In this role, it was his job to truly refine some of Kirkby’s finest talents and prepare them for the u18 category where they would be assessed on their potential professional ability.

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Like many Liverpool youth players, Bridge-Wilkinson has worked his way up through the academy age groups and it truly feels a natural progression for him to take on the baton of u18 manager this year. He knows the club and the players very well and has proved successful at delivering young talents to the senior squad.

He has certainly experienced tough times during his own professional career, and it is hoped he will utilise these trials and tribulations to further teach and inspire the next generation of players. 

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Liv Perry

University of Southampton graduate and aspiring sports journalist.

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