Goalkeeper Jake Turner feels he’s benefited from a less traditional route into the professional game.
It was only 10 years ago that he decided goalkeeping was for him - having played much of his junior football outfield. He once went on trial at Crewe as a defender.
A chance for a trial in goal at Bolton came after being spotted by a scout, filling in between the sticks for his junior Sunday side as their regular keeper was on holiday. He joined the Wanderers academy - as a keeper - and he hasn’t looked back.
Turner, who is preparing for Gillingham’s weekend trip to Doncaster, said: “I didn’t play outfield at the highest level and I was probably not very good at the back but it helps with the way goalkeepers play now.
“You have to have the ball at your feet, playing centre-mid and striker or centre-back, it has helped with that side of the game, but it is so much different been in goal and I have been doing that for most of my adult life - even if I don’t feel like much of an adult!
“I feel like I have learned a lot more and I do feel comfortable on the ball.”
He admitted the trial at Crewe, which in his school days was “a weird one”, adding: “Looking back I was not ready to play outfield!”
Not long after he was invited to train with the youngsters at Manchester United by family friend Rene Meulensteen - then assistant boss at the Red Devils. He took his keeper gloves for a taste of the big time.
Turner, now 24, spoke about the turning point of his career, when he was asked to go to Bolton on the same week as his stint at United, saying: “I had played in goal when I was much younger for our Sunday side but it was quite a good team, I got bored, my dad was the manager and it made it a bit easier, I came out of goal, playing anywhere, striker, centre-back, centre-mid.
“I was quite tall and they put me anywhere in the middle, a target man or the big one at the back.
“At 14 I started to think about going in goal again, luckily our (Sunday team) goalkeeper was on holiday, I played in goal for one game and that was the game I got scouted for Bolton. It all happened so quickly but it has got me here now and I am happy with how it happened!”
The Bolton invite came as his time training at United was coming to an end. By then he was convinced he belonged in goal.
He feels he’s had the best of both words, having got into academy footballer later than most.
“I probably had it the best,” he said. “You see a lot of young players now going into academies at age six or seven, it is so full on. I’m not saying it is a bad thing at that age, but for me I had the chance to enjoy Sunday league and school football with my mates who I grew up with, I enjoyed that.
“At 14 I was lucky enough to make a move into an academy, a lot of people at the time said I had come into it so late, but luckily it came at the right time for me.
“Most of them (at Bolton) had been there since seven or eight, quite a while. I remember first going to London for a three or four day tournament, just a week after being there, I remember my mum was crying, saying ‘my little baby is going away!’
“I was still so young, but I thrived off it, I enjoyed my time away, being there, you grow up so much quicker in those situation.”
He left Bolton during a time where the club were having major troubles off the pitch and his agent managed to get him a move to Premier League Newcastle United, where he picked up plenty of tips.
Loans at Morecambe and Colchester United gave him a taste of the Football League and he joined the Gills last summer, as no.2, getting his breaks during cup football last season, playing in some memorable games in including the win at Brentford.
It was between him and Glenn Morris for the shirt this season and so far, Turner’s the man, keeping five clean sheets in his eight appearances.
He said: “I worked hard in the summer and I spoke with (goalkeeping coach Deren Ibrahim) and he was like ‘its 50-50, out of the two of you’. We both came back in good shape, I just trained as hard as I could and thankfully I got the shirt.”
It’s been a good start so far for him and the Gills.
He said: “Everyone is in a good place, it is still early, eight games in, but everyone has worked hard, we’re looking forward and ready.
“(Top of the table) is a good place to be but still so early, so many tough games to come, we have to keep the wins coming and see how long we can stay there.
“The clean sheets are a credit to the whole team, we have it in our heads that we try and keep it to nil as long as possible, we know if we can keep a clean sheet we have the best chance of winning the game.
“Every day, the manager says about the first-goal mentality and the clean-sheet mentality, the two main phrases, do them both and we win the games, the more we do it the better.
“It is always nice to keep a clean sheet, we work on it as a team, it is the whole team that keeps a clean sheet, not just me, we defend so well, so solid and it is nice, as a goalkeeper that’s what you want, you aren’t going to score many as a goalkeeper and so the clean sheet is the main thing!
“The whole team has done it, back four, midfield, strikers, we defend as a team and we all enjoy the rewards of a clean sheet.”
The Gills will be looking for a better trip away from Kent this time, having come back from Grimsby smarting from a 2-0 loss.
Turner said: “Doncaster will be another tough game, we have done a lot of work on it, hopefully we can get the result at the weekend.
“You can’t get too happy with a win, or too down with a loss, you learn from it (the Grimsby loss), see what you can do better, what you did well, things that weren’t good enough, but we showed some good stuff last week and we’ll try and take that into this game.”