Sky Sports exclusive: Barrow's Billy Waters discusses considering quitting the football during his time at Torquay, bouncing back with Halifax last season and starring in the Bluebirds' unprecedented promotion push under Pete Wild
Saturday 10 December 2022 10:30, UK
The 2020/21 season could, quite realistically, have been Billy Waters' last in professional football.
He was released by Northampton that summer and, shortly after turning 26 in the October, he dropped into the National League for the second time to join Torquay.
Waters had produced at that level and helped Cheltenham to the title five years earlier - surely he could do it again? Five starts in Devon by the time March rolled around put paid to that idea.
Needless to say, it affected him mentally.
"I'd lived away from home for six or seven years and I was getting tired of it," he explains to Sky Sports.
"I felt like my life was being run by football, rather than having a life outside of football as well.
"I did originally envisage a way back into the EFL, but then when I was down in Torquay in lockdown, it was tough because I wasn't consistently playing. At one point, I thought about knocking it on the head.
"When I got the opportunity to play back up north, I thought I'd give it one more year and see how it went.
"I worked out that I could live at home still and have a life, be with my girlfriend, have family around me and play football. That's probably what I needed because last season was a really good one."
The season he speaks of was spent at Halifax, for whom he did replicate his previous National League scoring form, with 17 league goals helping the Shaymen to fourth and, subsequently, the play-off quarter-finals, where they were beaten by Chesterfield.
There was a natural disappointment, of course. But Waters' appetite had returned.
It prompted a summer move to Barrow, with the forward signing a two-year deal to follow Pete Wild - his manager at Halifax - to Cumbria, and the EFL.
His relationship with Wild has certainly been a central factor in riding an early storm at Holker Street to show what he is capable of at League Two level.
"I had a really good relationship with him last year, that's why, when it came to making the decision of who I was going to join, it was an easy decision," Waters continues.
"We all had meetings with him at the start of the season and he asked how he should manage me when things aren't going well.
"I said for him to always trust me and trust that I'll back myself to come back - and come back well. I appreciate the fact he stuck with me and has given me a chance. I've hopefully repaid that favour.
"I haven't had that level of trust from a manager before. Other managers in the past have said that, if you're not putting it in, you're getting dropped, which can be quite daunting. As a striker, you need a run of games or else you can't gather your sharpness."
The aforementioned storm the forward had to ride came in the opening months of the season, when he scored on his debut against Stockport and then failed to find the net in any of his next 14 games.
But one can use stats to paint any particular picture. Waters insists the drought was never at the forefront of his mind.
"I scored on the opening day but then got muddled up with little niggles and injuries. I missed games because of a shoulder injury and then a calf injury," he says.
"If I'd played in 14 games consecutively, I think it would have got to me because I'd just be thinking about where the next goal was going to come from. It wasn't something I was overthinking.
"I just trusted it would come back and I'm delighted to have my shooting boots back on."
Now, Waters has six goals in his last six league outings, a tally that includes his first hat-trick, which came at home to Colchester on November 1.
He is not even currently playing in his favoured role up front, either.
"The funniest thing is that we were chatting about hat-tricks before the Colchester game. Josh Gordon was telling me he scored in the Checkatrade, so I said that didn't count and then Sam Foley scored in the Conference and I said that didn't count either! It was just crazy how we'd been talking about it and then it happened.
"Playing as a No 10 behind the strikers is where I've scored all of my goals since I've been here, but to be honest, I'm always happy centrally, rather than on the wing.
"The main thing is I'm just happy to do my job wherever I'm needed. I enjoy playing in different positions because every game is different. I'm a striker at heart, though, so goals are the ones that I want. I just go out to focus on the game, but if a goal or an assist comes, happy days."
Judging by his record so far this term, when Waters scores, Barrow win, which is helpful given the Bluebirds have mounted, what can conceivably be referred to as, an unprecedented promotion push.
They finished 22nd last season and avoided relegation by only six points, for context.
He is fully aware they are punching above their weight.
"Teams were backing us to be right down there at the start of the season and I think we've proved everybody wrong so far," he adds.
"We've got a great group and great staff that all believe in the same thing. With the start we've had, we'd be disappointed if we weren't competing for play-offs at least by the end of the season.
"But there's a lot of good teams and it's going to be competitive. Against Stockport on the opening day, I think everyone expected them to win because they were favourites to go up and we were favourites to go down - after 30 minutes, we were 3-0 up.
"We've caught a lot of teams by surprise this season, but now teams are starting to take us for the team that we are and are working harder to try and beat us. We've got to rise to that challenge; the 5-0 defeat to Stevenage was the wake-up call we all needed."
Barrow are a particular force at home, having won eight of the 10 league games they have played there.
"The extra travel probably shouldn't, but it does play a part in other teams' mentality - it's a long way to come. We know that and we use that to our advantage, but also it's a stadium where you can feel the fans throughout the whole game. They have been excellent. We probably play the best football at home, too."
Should Waters keep firing and Barrow keep defying the odds, a sustained promotion push could well materialise.