Pic: Shane Healey/ProSports
By Tom Seymour
A CAREER in professional football has been a long time coming for Christian Doidge.
Released from the Bristol Rovers academy aged 15 for being too small, the striker has taken an unconventional path back into the sport via international basketball and the police force.
Despite Saturday’s hammer blow defeat at Lincoln, Doidge’s goals have been the driving force behind Rovers’ surge to challenge the Imps at the top of the National League, and he’s delighted for a second bite of the cherry as he aims to get Mark Cooper’s side into the Football League for the first time.
“I was a late developer and they basically said I wasn’t big enough to warrant a scholarship,” the 24-year-old said. “I was gutted. I thought the dream was over. So I just concentrated on school and didnt even play football for two or three seasons.”
That summer, Doidge had a growth spurt and with football no longer on his mind, he started playing basketball.
“In the area I lived in [South Wales], basketball was quite big,” he said. “I started playing with my friends and I picked it up very quickly. I got pretty good at it.”
So good in fact that just a year after being told he wasn’t big enough for football, Doidge was representing Wales at basketball at the Europe U18 Championship in Malta.
“Representing my country was something I never thought I would do. I am a very proud Welshman,” he continued.
“But it got to the point where I couldn’t really go any further, so decided I wanted to go back to football and played at a really low level in the Welsh league.”
He also wanted to forge a career, and chose to follow in the footsteps of his father and join the police.
“My dad was a chief inspector and he was someone I really looked up to,” said Doidge, who became a community support officer for the South Wales Police.
“As a job I enjoyed it. The community side of it was what I wanted to do – I wasn’t arresting anybody, I was walking around the community making sure it was safe.”
During this period, Doidge was also playing for Carmarthen Town and was spotted by then League Two club Dagenham & Redbridge, who invited the forward for a trial.
“I was 21 at the time and I thought back to not making it as a kid and how much that had hurt me, so it was a no-brainer to take the trial up and luckily I did well enough to warrant a two-year contract,” Doidge explained.
“Part of me had always wished I could go back into the professional game. I always had that hope.”
Six years after being told he would not make it in football, Doidge made his professional debut at Cheltenham Town in September 2014.
The following month he scored his first goal at Luton Town. After two years in London he left to join Forest Green in the summer of 2016 when the Daggers were relegated.
“I had a couple of offers to stay in the league, but Forest Green have got excellent ambition and they really sold the club to me,” Doidge said.
“It’s been a breath of fresh air. We’re playing good football and I’m getting a lot of opportunities to score.”
He is certainly taking those opportunities too, with 21 league goals to his name already this season to help take Rovers to the National League summit before Saturday’s 3-1 defeat to new leaders Lincoln.