IT was my pleasure to spend a couple of hours with a good friend the other morning.

Steve Foley is well-known throughout East Anglian football, having worked his magic on the coaching staff at Colchester United, Ipswich Town and Norwich City.

More recently he has become a prominent figure on our non-league circuit, sharing his wisdom and wealth of experience with the boys at Needham Market’s Academy.

For those that don’t know, however, it’s been a tough, gruelling seven months for Steve.

The worst of his life, as he phrased it the other morning.

Poor Steve collapsed at home and has been very poorly since last summer.

It’s been a rocky road, both for Steve and “unbelievably supportive” wife Heather.

By his own admission, he still has a long way to go.

But Steve wouldn’t want this piece to focus too heavily on his health.

He’s not one for making a fuss.

Instead, I’m pleased to report that when it comes to football, that glint in his eye and cheeky smile is still as strong and unmistakable as ever.

Steve’s had a career others can only envy.

The long-serving former U’s midfielder, coach and caretaker manager has spent half-a-century in the game and, until recently, worked within Ipswich’s Academy.

A room at the front of his Manningtree home bears testament to that longevity and success.

It’s an Aladdin’s cave of photos, memorabilia and cuttings; an A-Z of famous faces that Steve has worked alongside or rubbed shoulders with, from Sir Alex Ferguson, Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard to Mick McCarthy, Roy Keane and Craig Bellamy.

Two hours, two cups of coffee and a chocolate bar later, it’s clear from chatting that his love for the game is still as strong as ever.

Despite his health, Steve fully intends to return to coaching later this year and I dearly hope that’s the case.

He has so much to offer.

He’s a dedicated student of the game, as you’d expect for someone of such vast experience, but it’s his personality and attitude that make him so supremely talented.

That passion still shines through.

He wants boys to enjoy their football, give everything, learn from mistakes and be the very best they can be – even if that comes at the expense of results. Very refreshing.

Above all, he wants lads to have the same opportunity he had all those years ago when growing up as a starry-eyed wannabe in Clacton.

For sure, he can be frank and straight-talking when necessary but he’s also got a gentle, respectful and jovial side that makes him unforgettable and fun to be around.

It’s no surprise whatsoever that many players and former colleagues have been in touch during his illness, either in person or on the phone.

One even drove up especially from Somerset.

As Steve told me himself, you find out who your friends are at a time like this and I know he's been especially thankful for the support and patience of everyone at Needham.

Thankfully, he hasn’t lost his sense of humour - the best medicine of all - and I dearly hope this column puts a smile on his face.

Hang in there, Steve.

We’ll see you back on the training pitch or watching from the sidelines before you know it.