“Sir, if you were a footballer why are you driving a Ford Focus?” is one of the many questions Chris Turner gets asked repeatedly.
As a teacher at Shuttleworth College, his students are impressed that he has ‘lived the dream’ playing and scoring in the Football League.
But they can’t understand why he hasn’t got the millionaire trappings and the expensive watches and cars associated with a footballer’s life.
“In assemblies now, I talk to the Year 10s and 11s and make them realise that life as a League Two footballer isn’t about money and glamour,” said Chris (who turned 25 on August 26th)
“The last Football League contract I got offered was £200 – I am on more now than I ever was then!”
Chris looks back on his football career with a tinge of regret – but says he has never now been happier, working in the Padiham school and playing non-league for Padiham.
He even has dreams of still causing upsets as he scored in Padiham’s FA Cup win over Whickam in the extra preliminary round as he looks to captain the Storks to a cup run in the historic competition.
He admitted his aspirations were higher as he stepped out on his football career aged just seven.
“I was signed for Burnley from being seven years old after having a week’s trial,” said Chris, who went to Reedley Primary School and St Theodore’s.
“I was at Burnley for eight years and loved every minute of it.
“I was banging the goals in, getting help from the likes of Jimmy Robson, Jeff Taylor and Phil Malley at the Centre of Excellence and was playing for my hometown team. I was brought up in a professional environment of football and I think that helped me a lot – and is still helping me now.
“The problem was I was small for my age and, while everyone else was shooting up, I didn’t. I was still scoring goals but I wasn’t growing and, at 16, they couldn’t see me progressing to the youth team.
“I was heartbroken when I was told I was to be released. It was more for my dad Mick and mum Kim as my dad had taken me everywhere and he still watches me at every game now for Padiham. I wouldn’t achieve what I had without them and wouldn’t be the person I am.
“The coaches at Burnley told me that not many August birthdays make it so I went home, looked at players with August birthdays such as Thierry Henry and decided to prove them wrong. Not that they didn’t treat me well – they were great with me but I just wanted to have another go.”
Chris had got 10 GCSEs to his name and he was toying with going into teaching then aged 16.
“I had always been sporty and involved in every sport at school from cricket, to hockey, to football and so, if I couldn’t be a footballer, a PE teacher would have been perfect especially as my PE teachers like Andy Stubbs and Neil Stubbs had had an impact on me, pushing me and wanting me to do well.”
However a phone call from League Two Accrington Stanley changed those plans.
“I got asked to come down for a trial and there were a few of us who were told we would play three lots of 30 minutes and we would all play at least two of them.
“I scored two goals in the first 30 minutes but never played a second 30 minutes so I thought it was over but then I got a phone call later to say they wanted to sign me.
“I was in the youth team with Bobby Grant, Peter Murphy, Andrew Smith and Jay Bell and they were the five which the coaches concentrated on and put their effort into. They wanted us to make it.”
Chris signed his first professional deal at 18 and, for two years, lived the dream.
“Well kind of! I was on around £450 a week with bonuses and such like but it wasn’t the high wages most of my students associate with footballers!
“I loved it though. I made my debut at Wycombe and came on for the last 10 minutes when I was 17. I remember getting booked for clattering Neil Lennon – I think it was nerves.
“Before the game, I walked into the dressing room and saw my shirt ‘Turner 32’ hanging up and thinking ‘wow this is really happening.’ If they were the only 10 minutes I ever played of professional football, I had still done it.”
Chris went onto be part of the Stanley squad which went to the League Two Play-offs in 2011 – a surprise to many with the Reds having one of the lowest budgets in the Football League.
“There were some great moments. Paul Mullin and Andy Procter were both local lads and took me under their wings and they were superb with me. Great role models.
“I scored my debut goal against Cheltenham at home and then, in the last game of the season, I scored at Cheltenham away and that was great as all the Accrington fans were in fancy dress and it was a great atmosphere. I had a thing about Cheltenham!
“I also scored in the Carling Cup at Doncaster to take us through to play Newcastle. I started on the bench but came on and was up against Joey Barton, Kevin Nolan and Lomana Lua Lua. I remember again I got booked for a foul on Lua Lua – he was too quick for me!”
However he is the first to say he did things wrongly.
“Accrington were great with me, they gave me my chance and I had won the fans over, they even had a ‘Chris Turner’ song so it was a big part of me.
“But I got myself an agent and I am not sure if that was the right thing to do. Before I signed my first year pro contract I had interest from Huddersfield and Oldham and, while I did sign for Accrington, I don’t know whether it got me rushing ahead of myself and believing I was better than I was instead of being patient.
“I remember one game, we were playing Northampton away and all my family had travelled. I had been starting the last four or five games and done quite well and then I was dropped completely.
“Looking back, John Coleman might have been doing the right thing, resting me, but some of the lads got me wound up and I went to his office to see him.
“He wouldn’t tell me why I had been dropped and, when I turned to walk out, he pointed at me and said ‘never question me again’. I think that frosted our relations. While he didn’t bear grudges, I was young and I did and, while I was around the team, our relationship wasn’t the same and we didn’t see eye to eye after that. I was a bit bitter and, looking back, I would do things differently but that’s life.
“It came to a head at Accrington when, after the play-offs in 2011, I was told there is good news and bad news. The good news was they were offering me a new contract, the bad news was it was a lot less - £200 a week.
“I know that might seem reasonable to some people but it was a reduction and it wasn’t a lot for a League Two footballer compared to some of the other players.
“I still had an agent, wanted to look elsewhere and, in the afternoon, I read on the website I had been released so that was that.”
He was asked to go for a trial at Morecambe and Barrow but shin splints hindered him that summer and, though he did sign for Barrow, he was on non contract terms and was released when they needed to bring in another goalkeeper.
“I guess I was a bit disillusioned then so I started looking at other careers. My mum worked at Shuttleworth College and I went into help out voluntarily with the SEN (Special Education Needs) group after school with football and dodgeball. I was going it four days a week without pay but I loved it.
“Then a teaching assistant job came up, followed by a TA3 job which meant I would cover lessons. Thankfully for me, while some footballers ignored it, I completed my NVQ Level 3 in Sport and Exercise in Accrington and Rossendale College and got a distinction so I had the necessary qualifications.
“I was covering French, English and maths lessons and I loved it. I embraced it all and I just felt natural. Last year I became Pastoral Year Seven Head which means I go into primary schools and talk to the pupils about Shuttleworth, I coach both primary school and secondary school pupils and I think, with a professional football background, it has helped me.
“I used to love community stuff at Accrington, going into schools, and I also have professional, high standards and I think that translates to the students.
“For me there couldn’t be two more different careers. As a footballer, it’s more physically tiring despite only working a couple of hours a day but some days after school I come home mentally drained, and they are obviously much longer days!
“I also know what I am doing every day even though every day is different. I don’t miss the anxiety of going into the club wondering if I will be in the team, in the squad or dropped and the problems that causes.
“Now I am at Padiham as a semi-professional and I love playing under Steve Wilkes. He has made me the captain which is obviously a proud moment and, while it’s still tense at times, I think I have found a comfortable work-life balance.
“Do I have regrets? Yes of course I did a few things wrong but no one can take it away that I was a professional footballer. I am happier now than I have ever been, I get married next year and now I am there to give my students advice and hopefully help them in their careers – and maybe not make some of the mistakes I did so they can become millionaires!”