CHRISTIAN Doidge has learned to fall in love with football all over again since joining forces with Forest Green Rovers.
Feted by Rovers fans after scoring 27 times to help the Gloucestershire club achieve promotion to the Football League for the very first time last season, the Newport-born centre forward might easily have been lost to the game during his formative years.
Discarded by Bristol Rovers at the age of 15 and told he was too small to make it as a striker, a heartbroken Doidge became disillusioned with football and, encouraged by a subsequent teenage growth spurt, turned instead to basketball and a career in the police with South Wales Constabulary.
‘Not only did I stop playing football altogether, I stopped watching it as well. That’s how bad I felt about it after being released by Rovers,’ recalled Doidge, whose dreams of earning a scholarship at the Memorial Stadium were shattered by then- manager Paul Trollope.
‘I turned to basketball instead and represented Wales at under-18 and under-20 levels, and even played at the European Championships in Malta. There was no football for years.’
Only once he had come to terms with being rejected by Rovers did Doidge consider a return to football. And even then, his interest was limited to kicking a ball about in the local park with his friends.
‘One day, I started playing again, just having a kick-about with my mates, and things went from there,’ said Doidge.
Having rediscovered his enthusiasm for the beautiful game, Doidge was persuaded to sign up for League of Wales Division Two outfit Cwmbran Celtic for the 2009-10 season before joining Croesyceiliog a year later. From there, he teamed up with Barry Town, scoring 16 goals in as many games, a record of achievement that brought him to the attention of Welsh Premier League side Carmarthen Town.
Doidge scored 19 goals in 43 appearances for Carmarthen and helped them lift the Welsh Cup, in the process earning a trial at League Two club Dagenham and Redbridge, who subsequently paid an undisclosed fee to secure his services on a two-year contract.
Voted ‘Player of the Year’ after finishing top- scorer for the Daggers in 2016, the up-and-coming striker jumped at the chance to join Forest Green, then in the Vanarama National League, and the rest, as they say, is history.
Not only did Doidge finish as top scorer last season, he also netted in the 3-1 National League play-off final victory over Tranmere Rovers at Wembley to secure League Two status for the ‘little club on the hill’ for the first time in their 128-year history.
Attracted by his goal-scoring exploits, League One side Rotherham United were among a number of potential suitors to express an interest during the summer, but the Welshman finally put an end to speculation regarding his future when penning a two-year contract extension at the New Lawn last week.
And he then celebrated his new deal by netting twice as Forest Green opened their Football League account by drawing 2-2 with Barnet at the New Lawn on the opening day of the new campaign.
At no point did he seriously consider the possibility of leaving for pastures new. ‘I played the best football of my career at Forest Green last season and it was never in my mind to leave,’ confirmed Doidge, who is committed to Rovers until the end of the 2019-2020 campaign.
‘It’s close to home in South Wales and I love the way we play, so it was a no-brainer really. The manager’s philosophy is to bring the ball out from the back with control and get it into the opposition’s half of the pitch, where the flair players can create some magic.
‘Unlike other teams I’ve played for, I’m getting goal-scoring opportunities in good areas, rather than having to fight off defenders and feed off scraps.’
No wonder Rovers manager Mark Cooper was delighted when his most prolific goal scorer put pen to paper, saying: ‘It was important that we kept Christian at the club. He has played and scored goals in League Two previously, and he has the ability to do those things again.
‘He’s a bit of a latecomer to the professional game, but he showed last season that he is a fast learner. I think he’s still improving and I know he can score goals at this level.’