From soldier to footballer: Tom Broadbent's story
By Simeon Gholam
Last Updated: 08/11/17 12:25pm
Not every player makes it into football through an academy.
The Football League is littered with examples of unconventional paths into the game, but there are few stories more unique than the one belonging to Tom Broadbent.
The Bristol Rovers defender is enjoying his first season as a professional, following a remarkable rise from non-league. But before that? The Royal Artillery.
"It's all happened so quickly I've not really had time to sit back and think about what's happened," he told Sky Bet. "I suppose then when you're coming out of the army and looking for a job it can be quite difficult, but for me it's been good, I've landed on my feet with what has happened, so the transition for me has been quite easy."
Lance Bombadier Broadbent, now 25, spent six years in the army and was still technically serving until as recently as September. Last season he was captain of at Hayes & Yeading in the Southern Premier League. This season it's Sky Bet League One, playing against the likes of Wigan, Portsmouth and Blackburn - clubs that were all in the Premier League not so long ago. So how did it all happen?
"I'd had a good season [at Hayes & Yeading] and I knew I was getting a bit of interest from clubs but nothing concrete," he said. "But I made a decision to sign off from the army and took a gamble. Luckily it's paid off!
"It was the UK Armed Forces manager [Nick de-Long] who was a contact. He found out I'd signed off and I told him my plans. I'd put together a video of highlights of me playing, but obviously only of the good bits which probably made me look better than I am!
"I sent him that and he said he'd try to help me out. I didn't think much of it but he called me the next day and said he'd got me a trial at Bristol Rovers."
But it wasn't just the people in the army who helped him on his journey, it was also the army itself.
"I think it sorted me out a lot," he said. "Who knows where I could have ended up? I was going out and getting into trouble and fights and things like that.
"There were points when I was working on the hot food counter at Sainsbury's, but that didn't last too long because I hated it! I ended up doing labouring for a few years with some mates, I enjoyed it but didn't want to fall into the lifestyle of working on site then going to the pub after work every day, living for the weekend and spending all my wages just going out on a Saturday night.
"But I sort of thought that football just wasn't going to happen and I needed to sort my life out and do something, so I ended up joining the army.
"I had a sense of direction and felt I was achieving something with my life [with the army]. That's what you want to do, you want to go on tour and get medals and things like that. I was very happy. All my mates were going with me and I was happy to be going. Obviously at the back of my mind I was a little bit: 'Oh god, I'm going to war technically', but it was what I wanted to do."
That's not to say he stopped playing during his six years of service, there were no shortage of opportunities for someone with his talent.
"Once you start playing in the army you play quite regularly because there are so many teams you can play for," said Broadbent. "I played for about five teams at different standards. You'll have your regiment team and your core team, which was Artillery in my case, the army, then there's a UK Armed Forces team as well.
"A few of my mates were playing half-decent non-league standard so once I started playing at a good level I thought I'd do that as well."
But what about the difference between the barracks and the dressing room?
"The banter is slightly different, in the army it's probably stronger more 'cross-the-line' banter, but that's what makes the army the army," said Broadbent. "This is what I wanted to do and the only thing I miss [from the army] is the lads.
"At the end of the day it's a game of football and you're going out there to have fun, that's the main thing. Obviously it's serious but it's completely different to what I've been through, you can't really compare the different experiences of what it's been like. All I know is I'm doing what I want to do and I'm happy to be going out there playing football."
And for a man who was once in a vehicle that came under fire during a tour of Afghanistan, you can understand why he's so determined to enjoy every second of his second career.
"I was in an armoured vehicle and I was safe, it wasn't as bad as what other people had," he said. "We were travelling back into Camp Bastion and I wouldn't say we were in too much danger. People always think worst case like I was stood there and someone shot at me, but the tour for me wasn't too dangerous, not like a lot of my friends have had in the past. For me it was quite calm.
"Even while I was out on tour I'd never even have dreamt that I'd be here. Even a few months ago I was only looking at playing in [National League] South or Premier, so to be here is brilliant.
"I've been there done normal jobs and I've had to work hard in the past, so I'm happy to be here now. I'm lucky I've been given the opportunity to have my dream job, but now it's time to work hard and have a good career."
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