How Bristol Rovers striker Billy Bodin is flourishing once again...
HAT-TRICKS don’t come much sweeter than a first in professional football, but for Bristol Rovers’ Billy Bodin it marked the completion of a dream he once feared impossible.
Despite a promising first season with Rovers last term – which saw him quickly become a Memorial Stadium fanfavourite – the 24-year-old has had plenty of rough alongside the smooth in his career so far.
Highly regarded as a youngster, Bodin appeared in League One for Swindon Town aged just 18, with spells at Torquay and Northampton also following.
But nine months of knee ligament damage in March 2014 scuppered the forward’s progression, playing just four games for Northampton two seasons ago, before heading to Rovers in the summer of 2015 – an opportunity he has taken with both hands.
And a Boxing Day hat-trick against Coventry City completed the journey for Bodin – with the former Wales Under-21 international keen to credit his dad Paul, himself an ex-professional footballer, for the success.
“I did well when I was younger and since then I’ve kept trying to build up firstteam appearances, but when you’re out for the best part of a year then you take so many steps backwards,” explained Bodin.
“I went to Northampton, but kept picking up little niggles so it’s been very stop-start. Thankfully I had a good year last season and hopefully I can keep that going.
“All you can do is stay positive – a cruciate is one of the worst injuries you can get and everyone knows how long it takes, not only to get back playing but to get to your best.
“Dad was there to give me advice, found me things to do, and if it wasn’t for him then there’s a strong chance I might not have been playing now.”
Even Bodin’s maiden season for the Gas took a while to get going but he responded with two goals in his first three starts after battling his way into a side returning to the Football League following one season in the National League.
More than 40 appearances and 13 goals later, Bodin had helped Rovers to the dizzy heights of League One, scoring four goals in the final three games as automatic promotion was secured on goal difference.
And in manager Darrell Clarke – who crossed 1,000 days in charge over Christmas – the 24-year-old has a boss helping him to deliver his best. “I wasn’t in the team much at the start of last season, but I began to get a few chances, got a few goals and assists along the way and pushed on,” said Bodin. “The fans liked me as soon as I started scoring and it was great to have them on-side. “I’ve had a couple of niggles and been ill so it’s not been the greatest start this year, but I’ve got some full games under my belt and hopefully the only way can be up from here.
“The gaffer likes to change his team and the formations, but it seems we may stick to 4-42 which suits me.”
The hat-trick in the 4-1 win over Coventry provided some festive cheer for Bodin, his treble being completed in just 30 second-half minutes in what was his first start for two months.
That included an 83rdminute penalty handed to him by regular-taker Matty Taylor, with the match ball his prize for a marauding 50-yard run that saw him earn the spotkick.
Bodin continued: “It was a great feeling. I’ve got a fair few hat-tricks in the reserves but it’s very special in the first team, a moment I’m going to remember for a long time.
“Fair play to Matty, it was nice of him to let me have the penalty and I hadn’t taken one for a while – luckily the game was pretty much all wrapped up by then!”
TREBLE-SHOOTER: Billy Bodin, left, celebrates against Coventry with Ollie Clarke and, inset, his dad Paul in Wales colours
GESTURE: Matty Taylor