Steve Birks Interview

Some 25 years ago Sligo Rovers won the League Cup defeating Shelbourne 1-0 in the two-leg final.

Last Saturday night at the Showgrounds at the interval in the Premier game between Sligo Rovers and Shelbourne members of that panel were guests of the club.

Team captain Steve Birks spent seven years with the club and was interviewed by Conall Collier for an article in the match programme.


Mention the name of former player Steve Birks and many Sligo Rovers supporters will instantly describe the man from Fleetwood in England as a wholehearted and genuine footballer who gave his best for the club for almost seven years.

Apart from a brief spell with Tommy Cassidy’s Glentoran in the Irish League, as it was at the time, Steve had six seasons with Sligo Rovers and played close to 150 times for the Bit O’Red, his initial contact with the club was through Gerry Cassidy.

There would be unanimous agreement that when Steve pulled on the Sligo Rovers jersey, supporters were guaranteed 100 per cent commitment on the pitch and a battling performance.

Steve captained the Bit O’Red to that memorable League Cup final victory against Shelbourne in 1998 and it was a battling performance in the second-leg at Tolka Park that kept a 1-0 first-leg lead intact and brought some silverware to the Showgrounds.

Those battling qualities that were so evident from 1995 to 2001 will have to surface again as Steve faces into another battle now with serious illness on the radar.

Steve takes up the story:

“Initially, the prognosis from the medical people was a major shock, there was palliative care mentioned, I just couldn’t believe it and then I decided that I’m going to fight this as best I can,” he explained.

It’s just like when I was playing for Sligo Rovers, I always gave my best, did the best I could regardless of the odds.

“Now, that I have this health challenge, I’m hoping that the same attitude will help me in the battle.

“The people of Sligo accepted me and welcomed me when I joined the club and I have never forgotten that, now they are welcoming me and my family back to celebrate the 25th anniversary of what was a great night, both for the club, and for me personally, I really appreciate that.

“I’m really looking forward to visiting Sligo with my wife, Emma, our two children will be mascots at the game.

“It was always my plan to go back to Sligo and we had originally decided to go for my 50th birthday, that’s in July, but then this invitation came along and, with all that’s going on, I suppose I look on it as an early 50th birthday present.

“I spent nearly seven years in Sligo and the place really means a lot to me, I was actually very close to staying there, but it’s amazing the way things work out.

“My wife is also from Fleetwood, but we didn’t know each other beforehand, if you understand what I mean, we met at a social outing

“We have a young family, a two-year-old and a six-year-old, that alone was an incentive for me to tackle this health issue head on.

“There was some new medication suggested, which I tried, and all I can say is, so far, so good, but like all these things, nothing is certain, I’m currently in the process of retiring from the Fire Service and ready for the fight of my life,” he added.

Looking back at his time with Sligo Rovers and that magical night at Tolka Park some 25 years ago, Steve identified that success as one of the highlights of his football career.

“Winning the League Cup for the first time with Sligo Rovers, that was one highpoint for my football career, it was very important as two years earlier we had lost to Shelbourne in the final and I had a penalty saved in the shoot-out.

“Paul Tovey also missed one and it was really disappointing as a few minutes before the end of extra-time, I had a shot from about 30 yards that rattled the woodwork.

“Lawrie Sanchez was the manager when I was signed, but then he was gone and Steve Cotterill came in, at the end of that first season Steve wasn’t going to renew my contract and I ended up going to Glentoran for pre-season where Tommy Cassidy was the manager

“I missed the European games with Sligo Rovers in the Inter Toto Cup, that was really disappointing, I had an offer from Glentoran, but it wasn’t really what I wanted.

“Glentoran wanted me to fly in from England on a Friday night, play the game on a Saturday and then go home again, they had arranged that I could train with Blackpool.

“But then Steve (Cotterill) left the club and Chris (Rutherford) got in touch and asked me to come back, I had to tell Tommy (Cassidy) that I was going back to Sligo, he wasn’t too happy.

“Jimmy Mullen came in as manager of Sligo Rovers and I knew him well, he was the manager at Blackpool when I was a schoolboy there, but it didn’t work out for him and next thing I knew Nicky Reid had the role.

“That was a good sign as far as I was concerned, it showed that the club was serious about making progress with a man of that calibre.

“It was a bit of a challenge for Nicky, his first job as a manager and made more difficult as he took on the role of player / manager, he achieved a 16-game unbeaten run for the club while he was the manager.

“Nicky did a good job, but I always felt he didn’t get the credit he deserved, he got the best he could out of the players he had.

“But football can be, as they say, a funny old game, and after Nicky departed, he was replaced by Jim McInally, but that was a fairly brief tenure.

“The next manager was none other than Tommy Cassidy, he came into the dressing room and he just looked at me and we had a laugh, we became good friends,” he added.

Both Steve and Tommy Cassidy departed from the north west in 2001, but the paths of the man from Fleetwood and the former Northern Ireland international player would cross again, as Steve explains.

“When I finished with Sligo Rovers, I briefly played for Lancaster City while I was waiting for my international clearance to come through.

“Once I got that I went to Holland and played for Leonidas for three seasons, but then I came back to England and joined two of my brothers at the Lancashire Fire & Rescue, I and was based in Blackpool.

“That suited fine as I am from Fleetwood which was only 15 or 20 minutes away and I continued to play semi-professional for about another seven years.

“Tommy Cassidy was the manager at Workington and he signed me, I won the Cumbria Cup with Workington when we beat Carlisle Utd in the final.

“Then Tommy moved to Newcastle Blue Star, he signed me again, they were in the Northern Alliance League as far as I can remember and at the end of that season I went to Blyth Spartans,” he concluded.

25 YEARS AGO – 1998


Sligo are often criticised for their policy of bringing in English players who don’t bother too much when they get here. I took a wage cut to come her. I want to play full-time football. I could have a job in England and play part-time in the Conference. But I wouldn’t be able to do myself justice so I’m prepared to accept less money here. Some of the supporters think we are on huge money, but we’re not.