I FEARED LEAGUE SHOT HAD GONE...
Stokes’ Sky Blues joy
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.
“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.”
HAPPY DAYS: Chris Stokes in Coventry City colours and, inset, in action for former club Forest Green Rovers
LOAN STAR: Adam Armstrong