Gary Roberts admitted he didn’t quite expect the pay cut he took when he signed for Accrington Stanley - but it all worked out in the end!
The Reds were the now 36-year-old’s first league club and he has gone on to have a superb career, winning promotion with Huddersfield, Chesterfield, Portsmouth and his current club Wigan, three of these under ex-Reds boss Paul Cook.
But the winger says it could all have been very different when he first signed for Stanley in March 2005.
“I had been at Liverpool Academy as a youngster but had then been in the Welsh leagues. I was playing for Welshpool and John Coleman had been to watch me.
“At the time I was earning around £200 from Welshpool and I was a computer technician so I was doing ok, earning around £400-£500 a week in two jobs which was good money for a 20-year-old.
“Then I had a trial match for Accrington against Burscough and after it the gaffer said he wanted to sign me, he offered me a six-month contract and said he would look after me with a ‘few hundred quid.’
“In my mind, as a professional footballer, I was thinking £700/£800 but when I came to sign the contract it said £200 a week!
“I couldn’t pay for petrol the first month into my contract but thankfully it all worked out.
“To be honest, once I got into full-time football I always knew I would make it, I thought I would do ok.”
Gary is well remembered by Accrington fans for his 13 goals which helped the Reds win the Conference title in 2005-6.
He had a habit of scoring ‘live on Sky’ - he got one in the big November match against title-favourites Grays Athletic and a double in the January Monday night victory at another promotion rival Exeter which sent the Reds clear at the top.
“I think we were one of the favourites to go down that season as we had a small squad. It was full of scousers on hardly any money and we were up against decent sized clubs who were paying out a bit.
“We just had no respect for anyone and I bet teams hated playing us. We just seemed to beat anyone who was put in front of us, we had no fear.
“I remember playing Grays and it was the first time I had been on Sky. I scored, I got Man of the Match and it was amazing for me, eight months earlier I had been playing non-league football. I realised I was doing ok.
“The bus was rocking on the way home and we were singing ‘We are going up’ even then!
“Everything clicked and we went on an unbelievable run, we didn’t want the season to end. I remember Exeter on a Monday night, I think I scored with a free kick. It was freezing and we went 11 points clear and they were one of our rivals. We knew we had done it then.
“We had a great team spirit. Ian Craney is now the kitman at Wigan and we are good mates.
“Then I see Rocky (Robbie Williams) around and I have come up against Rob Elliot and Darren Randolph when they have played against me in the Championship.
“You have a special bond with players you have won a title with. You might not see each other for years and then you get together and it’s like you saw each other five minutes ago.
“It was a great season, it was memorable but for me, the game I remember most, was Chester City away, the opening game of our League Two season.
“We might have lost but playing in the league was my dream as a kid and I finally did it. It was red hot, it was packed and it didn’t go to plan but it was such a special day for me, one I will never forget.”
Gary was attracting attention but the move to Championship side Ipswich in October 2006 took him by surprise.
“I had gone into training Monday and was led on the couch at home when my agent rung me and told me to pack a bag as I was going down to Ipswich.
“It was surreal, I signed that morning and then made my debut against Preston North End on the Tuesday night.
“It was a real culture shock for me. I remember at Accrington, you had to do everything for yourself so I turned up at Ipswich with a holdall the size of a suitcase full of drinks, shinnies, boots, towels – you name it, it was in there.
“Everyone else just had little designer wash bags and nothing else and they were looking at me strangely. The kitman pulled me to one side and told me I could leave all that at home, it would be provided!”
He has played at Wembley a number of times and is still playing regularly at Championship level.
“I still feel fit and I am playing regularly at the moment for Wigan and I have still got a lot left to give.”