A feature on the former Welsh Premier striker out to make an impact on the Football League.
The recent chain of successful events that culminated in striker Christian Doidge agreeing a contract extension at Forest Green Rovers were not particularly unusual, even though they are key milestones in a career that has so far followed an unusual path. Last season, Doidge realised the dream of every schoolboy by scoring a screamer at Wembley as his goal against Tranmere Rovers help propel Forest Green Rovers into the Football League, and his reward and role now is to help ensure this ambitious and most eco-friendly of clubs remain outside of the non-league pyramid.
Doidge will mark the start of the new season by turning 25, but his senior football career started back as a teenager as he scored for fun in the lower echelons of the Welsh League, briefly at Cwmbran Celtic before switching to Croesyceiliog between 2009 and 2011. He then played a key part in the re-emergence of fallen giants Barry Town United as they began their journey back through the Welsh pyramid system, but it was at Welsh Premier League side Carmarthen Town that his talents came to national prominence. Publicly praised and supported by outspoken manager and former Wales international Mark Aizlewood, Doidge was quickly on the Football League radar.
In 2014, Doidge found himself in the middle of a bizarre public spat between Aizlewood and then-Newport County manager Justin Edinburgh following a trial at his home town club. While Aizlewood was keen to emphasise Doidge’s playing credentials, Edinburgh was keen to belittle Aizlewood’s career in the process, and a switch to Dagenham and Redbridge followed as the striker eventually departed the Welsh pyramid system and returned to English football for the first time since his release from Bristol Rovers as a 15-year old. The goals eventually followed after injury and a loan spell at Dartford disrupted his immediate impact, and there was a bittersweet irony of Newport County finding themselves on the receiving end of his goalscoring prowess.
Another goal at Wembley, another stunner!
Christian Doidge gets on the act and fires Forest Green back in front! ? pic.twitter.com/BL9bSMJM8g
— BT Sport Football (@btsportfootball) May 14, 2017
Now an established figure in the Forest Green Rovers side and a key part of the team that achieved promotion to the Football League, Doidge is now focused on the next chapter of his career, with his elevated status at his club offering him the platform to make a big impression next season. It is a situation far removed from his release from Bristol Rovers as a teenager that had such an affect on him that he even turned his back on football, eventually representing Wales at basketball. However, the hunger returned, and the opportunity to play in the Welsh League offered him the chance to enjoy the basic side of the game without the professional pressures that can weigh heavily on an impressionable youngster.
Plenty of professional players have come through the non-league ranks after been released by professional clubs as youngsters, and some are fortunate to eventually find their way back into the professional game. For others, the disappointment destroys their desire, and few can face putting themselves through the same experience for a second time. Playing part-time football and balancing it with a regular job can prove financially secure and fairly lucrative in comparison to chasing an almost impossible dream, and it takes a certain type of character to retain such an uncompromising belief in their own ability that can help bring that second chance around.
NEWS: Christian Doidge signs a new deal with FGR until 2020.
— Forest Green Rovers (@FGRFC_Official) July 31, 2017
But what makes Doidge’s journey different is that he has played over 100 games in the Welsh pyramid system on his way to returning to the professional game. More surprisingly, the majority of his football in Wales has been played below the highest domestic level, and there are very few players that have ever come through such a diverse path. There is no doubt that the experience has helped shape Doidge into the player and person he is today, and after the disappointment of his teenage rejection it may have been the best level for him to return to when he finally gave football a second chance. The Welsh Premier League has welcomed more and more teenagers rejected by professional clubs in recent years, but the immediate pressure to perform in an unfamiliar and challenging environment can prove tough in the circumstances.
To see players like Christian Doidge emerge from the Welsh Premier League and impress in the Football League is a huge boost for the credibility and status of the domestic top-flight, and Doidge’s improving reputation has indeed vindicated the support he received from his former Carmarthen Town manager. There is still more to come from him, and for Forest Green Rovers to invest in his services until 2020 shows that the belief in the striker clearly extends beyond the Welsh pyramid system. Christian Doidge may not have followed the conventional path, but Forest Green Rovers and their eco-friendly approach are not your conventional club either, and together they could be the perfect fit as they embark on a new era in the Football League.