(Photo: Action Images)
By Dan Barnes
Christian Doidge’s face certainly fits at Forest Green Rovers.
As poster boy behind the Gloucestershire club’s historic first-ever promotion to the Football League, the 24-year-old striker signed a two-year contract extension on the eve of the new season.
He bagged 27 goals last term, including one at Wembley, to help Mark Cooper’s men graduate to the big time via the National League play-offs.
Naturally, Doidge was the first to step up to the plate when Rovers became the first team outside of Europe’s top leagues to have their faces scanned for the next edition of EA Sports’ long-running FIFA video game series. He went through the same process as cover star Cristiano Ronaldo.
“I’ve been on FIFA before, but to actually have your face scanned is unbelievable,” said the Welsh frontman.
“I’m not a big console guy myself, but the boys were buzzing, so I’m going to have to buy one now – just because my face is going to be on it.”
It could all have been so different, though. As a 15-year-old, Doidge was released by Bristol Rovers and took the unusual step of taking up a new sport entirely – basketball – and progressing all the way to representing Wales at U18 European Championship level in Malta in 2009.
However, the pitch and not the court was where his true passion lay and, after rising through the ranks of Welsh football, the Rovers man did manage to sculpt a professional football career.
He’s come a long way since those days when he felt the sport had chewed him up and spat him out.
“I was devastated I gave up the game, had a couple of years out and started playing basketball with my friends locally,” said Doidge, who signed for Dagenham & Redbridge in August 2014. “I was so disheartened about football because that was the game I loved. To get released…I was devastated and I needed a change.
“At my school, they had a basketball academy, so I joined that.
“I started playing, represented the county a couple of times and then played for Wales. I went to Malta to play in the European Championships.
“It got to a point where, if I wanted to progress with a basketball career, I’d have to move away and I didn’t want to do it at that age, so I started playing football again at 19.
“I started right at the bottom of the Welsh leagues, playing for my local side with all my friends, at right-back for Croesyceiliog.
“I moved on to Barry Town, then Carmarthen, and then I had a trial at Newport County.
“Nothing materialised, but then I got a move to Dagenham on a two-year deal, so I couldn’t have been happier.”
Doidge still enjoys watching basketball on TV but this season he’ll be concentrating on doing everything he can to prove as prolific in League Two as he was in the National League.
Having notched in last season’s play-offs against former club Dagenham, whom he left to join Rovers in June last year, he’s now keen to find a long-term home.
Doidge said: “Every time I’ve played for someone, I’ve always felt that I had more to give, and I’ve kept pushing, so I’ve got promoted or moved on to the next level. I haven’t really stayed somewhere for a couple of years yet.
“I’m hoping, at Forest Green, we can get promoted again in the next couple of years and then I’ll see what happens.”