FA CUP PREVIEW: Cheltenham Town vs Yate Town
MATT Groves will never forget the day he was summoned to the office of Bristol Rovers management duo Paul Trollope and Lennie Lawrence. It was a gut-wrenching sensation he never wants to experience again.
Which is why when the flying left-sided winger, who once graced the junior parks as a fledgling forward with Shirehampton Colts, steps out on to the Whaddon Road pitch tomorrow for an unexpected taste of FA Cup first round limelight with Yate Town, he will reflect for a moment or two on what might have been for an enthusiastic teenager apparently set fair for a decent crack at Football League stardom.
For Groves, the helter-skelter world of the cut-throat professional game was about to take a turn for the worse, that after he'd shot to the dizzy heights of making two quickfire Rovers' debuts.
He recalled: "I'd joined Rovers as a youth under-15s player and signed my first pro contract at 18. We were playing Rushden & Diamonds in the FA Cup second round at the 'Mem' and I remember doing a lot of warming up, not really expecting to make my debut. Suddenly Paul Trollope and Lennie Lawrence told me I was going on and I felt this massive buzz, as well as a few nerves! It was definitely the best moment of my career and I played the last 13 minutes upfront and we won 5-1.
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"I must have done okay because two weeks later I made my League One debut from the bench at Huddersfield for the final 15 minutes and we lost 2-1. That was my first real insight into the stick you get from the terraces when you're playing away!
"I really enjoyed those experiences but then two days later, in a reserve match against Bournemouth, I 'did' the medial ligament in my right knee and it all went wrong after that."
Groves remained a Pirate until March 2009 when the news he was dreading was broken to him. "Paul Trollope asked to have a word with me in his office and Lennie was there too," he explained. "They said I hadn't been playing to a standard required for League One football and that they were letting me go. It was a terrible moment and I felt very down for quite some time after.
"Being out injured for two-and-a-half months knocked my confidence big time and I hadn't been able to get myself back to the level I'd come from. Also, all the competitive reserve team fixtures were cancelled so I didn't get the games in I needed, aside from a few friendlies."
Groves, a one-time pupil at Shirehampton Junior School and Portway Community School (now Oasis Academy Brightstowe), had spells at Weston-super-Mare and Weymouth and joined Yate in October 2011 after his previous club, Mangotsfield United, announced they were slashing their playing budget.
"It seemed a strange time of the season to do it so we sensed something must be wrong," Groves said. "It was a shame because in my first season there we'd reached the (Southern League) play-off semi-finals."
Groves, who helped seal that maiden first round proper place for Yate with two fabulous finishes, one in each game, against Newport County after drifting infield from the left flank as he so enjoys doing, did eventually make it as a full-time professional with Bristol Rovers, albeit as a children's coach with their community department!
"I knew their community manager, Peter Aitken, from my time as a player with Rovers and he invited me to become a community coach with them," Groves said. "I've been there for two years now and I really enjoy seeing the kids running around, smiling and playing football.
"Life has changed a bit now but ever since I left Rovers I've wanted to play at as high a level as possible and I'm lucky to have this chance against Cheltenham tomorrow. I know two of their players, Steve Elliott and Darryl Duffy, from my Rovers days and Steve Book, their goalkeeping coach."
Grove, now 23, admits those two remarkable games in the fourth qualifying round against Newport have done much to rekindle his appetite for football following his Rovers heartache.
"I don't normally go that mad celebrating my goals but they were so special in front of the players' families, many of whom went to Newport for the replay," he smiled. "I couldn't resist doing a celebratory 'Klinsmann' dive in the second game because it put us 3-1 up and we knew there were only seven minutes remaining for Newport to get back.
"The whole team had been on a massive downer after we threw it away in the first game and it took a couple of days to get over it. But once we regrouped, we realised how well we'd done and we'd proved we could score goals against them.
"Now we have Cheltenham away and although they're flying high in League Two, we're going there with nothing to lose. If they have an off-day and we play to our full potential, you never know . . . "