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Ex-Non-League Defender Excited Ahead of European Tie

calendario 13.07.2022
by: NonProFootball
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Ex-Non-League Defender Excited Ahead of European Tie

Former Stafford Rangers defender Lewis Banks told Fen Regis Trophies that he is excited ahead of Sligo Rovers’ UEFA Europa Conference League qualifier against Wales’ Bala Town.

Banks, 25, made the unlikely move from non-league Stafford Rangers to League of Ireland Premier Division Sligo Rovers in 2019. It was a move that saw the former Stoke City Under-23 captain go from playing Northern Premier League to Europa Conference League football.

The right-back had been with Stoke from the age of eight until his release as a 21-year-old in 2018, becoming one of many youngsters to be let go by a professional academy. To stay in the game, Banks accepted an offer from Stafford Rangers, playing in the seventh tier of English football (five levels below Stoke), with the ambition of replicating the likes of Jamie Vardy, Chris Smalling, and Jarrod Bowen in clawing his way back up the football pyramid.

“It was tough,” admitted Banks on playing non-league football. “The football is very, very tough.

“I went from full-time to part-time, working and then playing football as well – I found it tough.”

Crossing the Irish Sea

Banks could never have imagined that, just a few months after arriving at Marston Road, he would be offered the opportunity of playing top-flight football, let alone that it would involve playing in the Republic of Ireland.

“My agent at the time just text me one day and asked would I like to get back into full-time football,” he explained.

“I said ‘of course!’ and that’s how the move came about, and I never looked back. It was a fortunate break; it was a strange one at the time, but I’m glad it happened.”

Sligo Rovers are a well-respected and successful club, most recently being crown Irish champions in 2012, with a history of playing in Europe. That made it a move far too good to turn down for Banks who could have only dreamed of playing in any UEFA competition when his 12-year association with his boyhood club came to a disappointing end.

“I didn’t really know what to expect,” he said. “The standard is extremely high.

“There are a lot of full and Under-21 internationals in the league. There are teams that have gotten into the Europa League group stages and been in Champions League qualification.

“It’s a very tough league and the standard is exceptionally high.”


Playing in Europe

Before Banks’ arrival, Sligo’s most recent foray in Europe was in the 2014/15 Europa League qualification stages. The Bit o’ Red won their first tie in UEFA competition since 1994 when they defeated Lithuanian club FK Banga Gargždai 4-0 on aggregate, before being eliminated by Norwegian giants Rosenborg.

The Irish side did give them a fright, though, winning the first leg 2-1 in Trondheim and taking an early 1-0 lead back home at The Showgrounds in the return leg, until goals from Pål André Helland and Mike Jensen (two) broke Sligo hearts.

Banks made his European debut in last season’s Europa Conference League, though there would be no heroics as Sligo suffered a first qualifying round defeat to FH of Iceland.

Having once again qualified for Europe with a third-place finish in 2021 (the League of Ireland season is played from February through to October), Banks and Sligo now look forward to an exciting Irish-Welsh tie with Bala Town. The first leg takes place in Wales on Thursday 7 July and the second leg a week later in Ireland on Thursday 14 July.

“This year, we hope to progress through one or two rounds and possibly go all the way to the group stages,” said Banks.

“It’s massive [for the club]. There’s obviously a lot more funding through UEFA. The club can get players like myself, and players that grew up with the club, to represent them on the European stage is massive.

“Players, and the coaches and fans, get to experience going on European trips. It’s huge for clubs in Ireland.”

He added: “I look forward to it and hopefully there is a bit of edge as it can bring a bit more out of you.”

“As Long as You Work Hard, Good Things Will Happen”

Banks is just one of many sources of inspiration that any young player that has been let go by their club can look towards. Being released is a disappointment that many teenagers and young adults find difficult to process, but Banks shows that there is more than one route to success – and that the less trodden path is often the best.

“You have got to stick at it,” he said. “As long as you work hard, good things will happen. You might get a lucky break.

“For lads that are looking to stay in football, non-league is a great platform with good leagues and a good standard.

“If you knuckle down and work hard you can get a move back up the ladder. Just stick at it!”

The article was written by Fen Regis Trophies

To read it click here

Source: Fen Regis Trophies

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