I FEARED LEAGUE SHOT HAD GONE...

Stokes’ Sky Blues joy

The Football League Paper - - NEWS - By Nick Lough

CHRIS Stokes be­lieves he is in­debted to Coven­try City for re­ju­ve­nat­ing his ca­reer af­ter ‘tak­ing a punt’ on him when pluck­ing him out of the Con­fer­ence – and is glad to see the Non-League tal­ent pool is be­com­ing a reg­u­lar mar­ket place.

The 24-year-old was brought to the Ri­coh Arena on an ini­tial one-month loan deal from For­est Green Rovers in Fe­bru­ary last year by for­mer boss Steven Press­ley.

Stokes ad­mits he did take some time to adapt to the rigours of League One, but is de­lighted to be prov­ing the doubters wrong hav­ing fea­tured in ev­ery league game since pen­ning a per­ma­nent deal with the Sky Blues.

“The game is a lot quicker and there is a higher in­ten­sity in League One,” the left-back told The FLP.“When I came up from the Con­fer­ence orig­i­nally, I was thrown in at the deep end and I strug­gled phys­i­cally.

“Hav­ing a full pre-sea­son has helped me and know­ing what I’ve learned from last sea­son, it read­ied me for this one.

“It’s nice that the fans are ap­pre­ci­at­ing what I’m do­ing. A lot of peo­ple were a bit con­fused as to why the club were sign­ing a player like me – they were ex­pect­ing big-name play­ers.

“I took that on the chin but I feel I’ve proved what I can do and it’s nice to see the opin­ions are chang­ing, as well as the views on play­ers from Non-League.

“Clubs are now look­ing around the Con­fer­ence and the divi­sion below for play­ers. It’s great as there is a lot of tal­ent there.”

Re­leased by Bolton at the age of 19, Stokes plum­meted four divi­sions to find a new club by sign­ing for For­est Green in Novem­ber 2010.

He ad­mits things got dif­fi­cult, and could have got worse, if not for a hand­ful of peo­ple keep­ing his dream alive of play­ing at a high level.

He said: “It’s men­tally tough as when I got re­leased I thought I would drop down to the Cham­pi­onship or maybe League One. When you end up in the Con­fer­ence, you get wor­ried as that’s where pro­fes­sional foot­ball ends. You think ‘Where do I go from there?’

“You think you’ll be back up the leagues some day soon, but in the end I had played three sea­sons in the Con­fer­ence and thought ‘Is this all it’s go­ing to be now?’

“You don’t want to ac­cept it and when I got to 23, I thought maybe the way to get into the Foot­ball League would be pro­mo­tion from the Con­fer­ence. My agent has stuck by me and he al­ways in­stilled in me that we could keep the phone ring­ing. Steven Press­ley picked up the phone, put me in and gave me my chance.

“If he hadn’t done that I would never have got this op­por­tu­nity – all I needed was that one per­son to be­lieve in me.

Op­por­tu­nity

“The new gaffer (Tony Mow­bray) came in and gave me a shot when Press­ley left. I had been ner­vous that it could be my one chance gone, but he has been great with me and helped me to push on.”

Coven­try have all ar­eas cov­ered in terms of ex­pe­ri­ence with play­ers such as Joe Cole, Stephen Hunt and Peter Ra­m­age pro­vid­ing Premier League knowl­edge and Stokes pro­vid­ing the grit and de­ter­mi­na­tion of a Non-League re­cruit.

“You go to some away grounds with muddy pitches and ba­sic fa­cil­i­ties, but it’s some­thing I got used to in the Con­fer­ence,” adds Stokes, who won one cap for the Eng­land C team while play­ing in the fifth tier.“We have a nice blend of old and young and I think that has sig­nif­i­cantly helped us to get to where we are.”

And the fact League One’s top scorer Adam Arm­strong, 18, has ex­tended his loan from New­cas­tle for the rest of the sea­son is a boost.

“Adam has been un­be­liev­able this sea­son. He’s a ridicu­lously tal­ented young lad and you can see how ef­fort­lessly it comes to him,”he added. “We’re con­fi­dent that if we can main­tain the way we’ve played for the ma­jor­ity of the sea­son, we’ll cer­tainly be in the mix at the end.”

PIC­TURES: Ac­tion Im­ages & Bruce Fenn

HAPPY DAYS: Chris Stokes in Coven­try City colours and, in­set, in ac­tion for for­mer club For­est Green Rovers

LOAN STAR: Adam Arm­strong

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