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Danny Rowe: Manchester United trainee, non-League hero and now Football League player with Oldham
In this exclusive interview, former Manchester United trainee turned non-League goal machine Danny Rowe discusses reaching the Football League with Oldham just before his 30th birthday
Last Updated: 16/04/20 6:38am
Spare a thought for Danny Rowe. The Oldham striker has waited his whole career to make it to the Football League. That chance finally came in January, just weeks before his 30th birthday, only for the coronavirus crisis to bring football all over the world to an abrupt halt.
Rowe's thoughts are with others at this difficult time. For him, it is now just about staying safe and keeping fit. "I am just trying to keep ticking over," he tells Sky Sports.
But he is also reflecting on a journey that began as a trainee with Manchester United and took him out of football entirely before rebuilding his career in spectacular fashion with Fylde. There was no League football in his twenties but there were goals. Hundreds of them.
"It was my best time in football being at Fylde," he says of the Lancashire club for whom he was the top scorer in the National League last season. "I still get on with everyone there and I have been back to watch them play too. The fans were good with me and the club put stuff on social media too when I left. I still speak to the manager and the chairman.
"It didn't really work out for me at others clubs the way it did at Fylde."
Rowe's record for Fylde
2018/19 - National League - 27 goals
2017/18 - National League - 24 goals
2016/17 - National League North - 47 goals
2015/16 - National League North - 25 goals
2014/15 - National League North - 20 goals
Rowe's rise has not been a straightforward one as his age would suggest. His first goal for Oldham came in his second appearance in league football, a late equaliser against Salford. But a number of that club's owners - the so-called Class of '92 - might have been Rowe's Manchester United team-mates had his boyhood dream gone to plan.
Poached from Preston before he was even a teenager, Rowe counted Tom Cleverley and Danny Drinkwater among his contemporaries in the club's famed academy.
Instead, like so many others, he was released.
"I was a Manchester United fan so it was a big thing for me at the time," he explains. "Being released means you can lose your confidence and you can lose your way. That is what happened to me a bit. When I was 15 or 16 I just fell out of love with the game.
"I didn't really want to carry on in football after that. I got a job working as a joiner as an apprentice. At that point, I was just playing locally with my friends. That was how I got back into enjoying my football, just by playing the game for fun with my mates."
Goals help with confidence and there were plenty of them as Rowe plundered away in the lower reaches of the pyramid. There were goals for Stockport and Lincoln during their non-League days. A spell at Fleetwood with Jamie Vardy.
Perhaps most memorably, Rowe scored the winning goal for Fylde at Wembley as they lifted the FA Trophy in May 2019. But even that could not completely make up for the disappointment of missing out on promotion at the same venue in the play-off final one week earlier.
He was well aware time was running out for him to make it to the Football League.
"That is how I saw it," he admits. "Quite a few clubs were interested and it was Oldham who came in for me in the summer. I wanted the move to happen then, to be honest.
"It was just one of those things. When I was there this season it wasn't as if we were running away with it or anything. We definitely weren't going to get promoted this season.
"It would have been a big gamble to stay. If we weren't going to get promoted then you do start wondering to yourself whether you are ever going to play in the Football League. Thankfully for me, Oldham came back in for me in January and I was able to leave."
Despite this unwanted break, the wondering is over and Salford were appropriate opponents against whom to open his account having denied Fylde promotion in that play-off final. "It is only afterwards that it sinks in that you have scored your first goal," says Rowe.
Two more have followed since then - both coming in a 5-0 thrashing of Newport in Oldham's most recent match at Boundary Park at the end of February.
So after all that waiting, how different is the Football League?
"It has been very different for me because I have not played at this level before but I have settled in," he says. "At the minute, for me, it is just all about finding my feet, getting used to playing with different people and playing at a different level. It has been good so far.
"When people talk about the standard, I actually think it is a lot less physical in League Two. I definitely found the National League more physical and the ball is in the air a lot more at that level. The difference here is that the players in League Two are technically better."
Danny Rowe - finally - is among them.