Living the dream or having his dreams taken away from him?
Simon Wiles drew a deep breath when I asked him to evaluate his football career.
As somebody with more than 50 Football League appearances to his name and a Wembley cup final victory to boot, the Preston-born former wideman achieved something that is arguably beyond the wildest dreams of 99.9% of the population.
However, now aged 31 and the current assistant manager of Bamber Bridge, Wiles will always harbour feelings of ‘what might have been’.
Picked up by Blackpool playing for local junior side Lancon Juniors as a teenager, Wiles had just broken into the Tangerines’ youth team when he suffered his first cruciate knee ligament rupture.
It would prove to be, unfortunately, a common and recurring theme throughout his career as he endured seven knee operations across 10 years – his final ‘cruciate’ while playing for Barrow in the National League rendering his full-time career over at the tender age of just 26.
It is testament to his drive and determination that Wiles managed to battle back from his numerous injuries to enjoy a decent few years in the professional game.
He made nearly 40 appearances for the Tangerines – including a spell playing with and under current Preston North End manager Simon Grayson.
He went on to enjoy stints with Macclesfield and Scottish club Dunfermline before arguably enjoying his finest hour when he helped Barrow lift the FA Trophy at Wembley in 2010.
Amiable and affable, Wiles appears to be a glass half full type of character, although admits he will always have a few regrets over his injury misfortune.
“I just got done by injuries unfortunately,” Wiles said.
“I’ve had seven knee operations, cruciate knee ligament ruptures.
“I’ve done everything basically apart from a full dislocation.
“It meant my career was stop-start. I never had a full flow of games and I never got the chance to see where I could have got to.
“I might never have got to where I wanted to go – I may never have reached the heights that I aspired to.
“But I never really found out how good I could have been because I was always being hit with these major knee injuries.
“On the flip side though I got to experience things that not many people get to experience. Signing and then playing in the first team for Blackpool.
“Getting to the FA Trophy final at Wembley with Barrow.
“Playing on big stages like Nottingham Forest away, Barnsley, Swansea.
“I’ll always remember playing for Blackpool against Forest on a Tuesday night.
“The City Ground is an amazing stadium.
“I just remember coming in after the warm-up, getting my shin pads on and walking out on to the pitch.
“Forest had Kris Commons in their team, David Johnson was up front and Wes Morgan was at the back.
“You walk out onto the pitch and right in front of you is the Clough Stand absolutely packed – it was amazing.
“We managed to get a 1-1 draw.
“It’s just little things like that which you look back on.
“I love the fact that I managed to achieve that and experience occasions like that.
“You do pinch yourself and even now talking to you I still pinch myself.
“It was brilliant, even though it does seem a long time ago now .
“So I do have mixed emotions when I look back.”
Wiles, who has also played for Chorley, made his debut for Blackpool when he came on as substitute in a LDV Cup tie at Bloomfield Road against Tranmere during the 2003/04 season.
“It was Steve McMahon who gave me my debut at the age of 18 – and that came after I had spent 18 months out with my first knee injury,” said Wiles, who now works as a youth coach at Fleetwood Town.
“Steve gave me half-an-hour and we managed to win 3-2 with John Murphy scoring a hat-trick.”
During the summer of 2004, Colin Hendry replaced McMahon as manager at Bloomfield Road.
It was the former Blackburn Rovers defender who handed Wiles his first start in League One for the club – and it proved to be a dream debut.
“I remember we had got beaten 4-0 at Rotherham and Colin had put me on in that game and I missed two really good chances,” the former Archbishop Temple School pupil said.
“We had a game two days later on the Bank Holiday Monday against Bradford City at home.
“It was a funny one my debut because we were desperate to win it for Colin.
“I ended up making my debut and scoring the winning goal, which was amazing. I remember the goal vividly. Ciaran Donnelly was on the left and he cut inside and hit a diagonal ball with his left peg.
“Big John Murphy peeled-off around the back stick and I could see he was going to head it into my path. I just made a diagonal run and as the keeper came out, I just headed it over him.
“It sounds easy but it wasn’t.
“That was 1-0; I jumped in the crowd, got booked but what a feeling, it was absolutely brilliant.”
Next Saturday: Read part two of the Simon Wiles story