Writer: Mark McBurney
Date:Saturday September 29 2012
For a young lad there isn`t much that compares to being released when your heart is set on becoming a professional footballer. Few make it as a professional afterwards. Even fewer make it to the top level.
One man who is working his way up the ladder is midfielder Chris Lines. Released from the youth system at boyhood heroes Bristol Rovers, Chris was then re-signed at 16. Quite a rollercoaster, surely?
"When I was released it was devastating" he says. Rather than go off the rails though, Chris had his head screwed on. "I started to think of other career options and decided to go to college, and enrolled on a three year course studying for a National Diploma in Sport. Luckily that was my route back into the game"
Chris was re-signed by Rovers at sixteen, and went on to make his debut at twenty. By May 2007, he was standing alongside his teammates celebrating promotion at Wembley.
"That was a brilliant season! It wasn`t long before that I was stood on the terraces, the next thing I`m celebrating in front of 40,000 Rovers fans at Wembley!"
Make no mistake though, this was no easy ride for Chris. In 2004, while Chris was trying to impress in the youth system, his father tragically died from a heart attack.
"It was the toughest time of my life so far. Football became irrelevant and all I wanted to focus on was looking after my Mum and my Sister."
Faced with a difficult period, it would have been easy to fade away into a life of mediocrity. Not Chris though. "At the same time, it made me more determined to make him proud and play professionally. It`s made me a stronger person and I am fully focused on playing at the highest level I can, and I dedicate it all to him."
So, football`s scrap heap, to Championship giants Sheffield Wednesday in eight years. When did Chris feel he`d arrived?
"I never feel like I`ve 'made it`, I always strive to do better and won`t stop doing that until I realise that I`ve reached the highest I can." The Premier League perhaps? "Why not? I have no limits for myself".
Management duo Paul Trollope and Lennie Lawrence were a big inspiration for Chris. "Without a doubt Trolls and Lennie were the main people behind helping me to become a first team regular. They kept believing in me and I guess now I`m proving them right."
Make no mistake though, this is no Roy of the Rovers story. In the 2010-11 season, Rovers were relegated from League One, and as a local boy, criticism soon followed.
"It was tough being a scapegoat at times, especially when my family were brought into it." Chris became an easy target for frustrated fans.
"At the end of the day, I was a young, single lad living in my home town. Of course people are going to see me out and about. I`m not a robot, I`m just a normal guy from Filton, Bristol who enjoys spending time with my friends."
Did it affect Chris though? Unsurprisingly, he`s been through enough to be able to deal with it. "The last thing I was worried about was clueless opinions from people sat at their computers".
A parting of ways seemed inevitable then, and a week spent training with Crystal Palace appeared to have the answer. "It was decent. They were waiting until they had sold another midfielder though but obviously by then I was back for pre-season in Bristol".
The benefactors of Palace`s indecision were then-League One giants Sheffield Wednesday, though it seemed for a while that he might remain a Rovers player.
"I really enjoyed pre-season and was made captain as well. My baby girl was due any moment and I stated that, for me, it would be best to be in Bristol for that time. However, when the season started and I was on the bench, I knew something was going on, that wasn`t football ability-related".
With Wednesday hovering there was only one choice for Chris. "I decided to accept Wednesday`s offer and it`s the best decision I`ve ever made. Another promotion and crowds of 25,000 every home game last season was a dream come true".
So what of Rovers? Several incidents had raised alarm over the summer, such as the decision to strip club stalwart Keith Brookman of almost all of his duties.
"The treatment of Keith was shocking as he is 'Mr Bristol Rovers` and an amazingly hard working guy."
Rumours of board room interference on footballing matters over recent seasons should perhaps not make it a surprise. But did any of that really happen?
"Yeah I did receive some interference but the manager at the time picks the team, and he believed in me and wanted me in the team and that`s all that matters."
How about the decision to scrap the reserve team several seasons before? Was that really as bad an idea as it seemed?
"I played a lot of reserve games so for me they were always something I looked forward to. However they could become slightly uncompetitive and I`m sure the new ideas of development squads and U21 leagues are a better plan."
One thing that Gasheads have complained about for some time is player recruitment. Chris agrees that non-league is an untapped source.
"There are a lot of talented players playing outside the football league, and they`d come at a much cheaper cost than more established players who have been journeymen."
In the past few seasons many players have left the club, either having been released like Byron Anthony, Steve Elliott, Stuart Campbell or Andy Williams; or leaving for bigger clubs like Lines and Rickie Lambert.
"I believe most of those mentioned would do a great job now, and when you look at the players that have left, most have gone on to higher clubs or more successful clubs. The grass isn`t always greener."
One thing that was often levelled at Lines was that he wasn`t value for money. Did he justify his wages?
"I definitely feel I did. I worked my way up from peanuts to earning myself a decent deal. And that`s what happens when you work hard and perform well".
Given the obstacles that Chris has overcome in his career, it`s difficult to disagree.
Where does he see Rovers at now? "I don`t know the current manager but I`m sure he has good ideas for the club, and aspirations to get the club back into League One at least."
"I guess I`ve proved a lot of people wrong, and rubbished some opinions. I just hope that the successful days return to the club ASAP."
You get the impression that even throughout the trials and tribulations of being a Rovers player as well as fan, that deep down Chris holds a place in his heart for the Gas.
Time will tell just how far Chris can go in the game, but I have a feeling that Gasheads have many proud times to come. Chris has matured into a classy box-to-box midfielder, but as this interview shows, more importantly a classy human being.
And the credit for that, must go to the entire Lines family.
Date:Saturday September 29 2012
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