Bristol Rovers hero pays tribute to ‘club that made him’ after Wales World Cup call
Bristol Rovers were the 27-years-old’s first club and he later went on to captain them
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Former Bristol Rovers captain Tom Lockyer has expressed his gratitude to them after his call-up to Wales’ World Cup squad. Lockyer, now at Championship club Luton Town, is a part of Rob Page’s 26-man squad which will face England in Qatar.
The Dragons are in a group with Gareth Southgate’s Three Lions, as well as the United States and Iran. Lockyer began his career with Rovers and is admired by many Gasheads, who will be firmly supporting England against Wales. Despite being the opposition, however, there is pride amongst the Rovers faithful in one of their own being called up for a major tournament.
Bristol Rovers is where Lockyer began his senior footballing career and it is the club he has spent the most time at. He joined the club after being released by Cardiff City at the age of 16 years old. Bosses at the Bluebirds deemed Lockyer to be too short but he has since grown to be over six foot, the apt height needed to be a centre-back.
Rovers were not deterred by Cardiff’s thoughts and he made his debut just days shy of his 19th birthday, coming on as a substitute in a 3-0 win over Fleetwood Town with John Ward in charge. Lockyer would go on to play three more times that season before bursting on to the scene.
"It was the club that made me, it was fantastic. Funnily enough, Cardiff releasing me was probably the best thing to happen to me. To go there and play men’s football at an early age in the league and dropping out of the league to play non-league.
"Building your way back up you turn from a boy to a man really quickly. I loved my times at Bristol Rovers, it really shaped me into the character that I am today. I can’t thank them enough. I’ll be sending a shirt their way from the World Cup when we are done for sure.
"The trio of Darrell Clarke, Marcus Stewart, and Steve Yates have impacted my career. They have had the biggest dent on it, a dent in a good way! They’ve had the biggest impact on it and I can’t thank them enough. The whole club in general was fantastic for me at the time and it really made me who I am today."
Lockyer’s fondly remembered by Bristol Rovers fans for his loyalty after remaining with the club following their relegation. He played a majority of the 2013/14 campaign, which saw them relegated against Mansfield Town on the final day, in their own kit.
Rovers dropped out of the Football League and were expected to bounce back at the first time asking given the club’s stature but with only two promotion spots, it would prove to be an arduous task.
A benefit of relegation was that Lockyer continued to have an extended run in the side and at a young age, was exposed to the highs and lows of senior-level football. Rovers didn’t have it all their own way despite the favourites tag and once trailed Altrincham in the early part of the season, eventually losing 2-1.
Thankfully Rovers overcame their slow start and won promotion at Wembley Stadium, defeating Grimsby Town on penalties. It was the start of what would turn out to be back-to-back promotions, as they later won promotion in dramatic circumstances on the final day against Dagenham & Redbridge.
Entertaining the idea of playing for your country, especially at a first World Cup at 64 years wasn’t something that would have ever been considered at that point. Seven years down the line and that’s exactly what happened. It shows the unlikely route that some footballers have made to reach the ultimate stage of world football.
"I remember at Altrincham away and we’re losing 2-0. Am I I’m thinking of playing for Wales at a World Cup? I’m not gonna sit here and lie, no I’m not. To be sitting here now is absolutely fantastic.
"I’m delighted and I’m over the moon. I am hungry as well, I don’t want to stop here and just think I have cracked it now. I want to be in camps moving forward and pushing the boys and getting a few more caps."