Joe Noakes relishing new role at AFC Portchester after being forced to quit playing aged just 26
It's a route he would have ideally liked to have taken a little later in his career.
But AFC Portchester's Joe Noakes is still 'excited' at how his future in football could look after taking his first steps into coaching.
It was last summer when the 26-year-old was forced to reluctantly call time on his playing days.
His incredibly bad luck with injuries resurfaced in a pre-season friendly against a Pompey XI at the Crest Finance Stadium.
Introduced as a substitute, Noakes won a header but heard a 'pop' in his knee.
Fearing the worst, the former Hawks midfielder – two sub appearances in the Conference South in April 2013 - would discover that the right knee he had previously had surgery on was re-ruptured and he'd require further operations.
It was minutes later in the changing room when it hit Noakes - it was time to stop playing.
He had already battled back from a grade three cruciate tear suffered while playing for Hawks, as well as a double tibia leg break and ruptured cruciate injury, but he now had to put his life before playing.
Yet, rather than take a prolonged period away from the game, Noakes was straight back involved.
He joined former Royals boss Mick Catlin's coaching staff at the start of the current season before interim manager Marty Wallace kept him involved.
Now Noakes has just been confirmed as the Royals' first team coach where he'll work as part of new manager Dave Carter's backroom team when step 5 football is given the green light to return.
And it's an opportunity he is relishing.
Noakes said: 'When I got in the changing room (after coming off against the Pompey XI) it just hit me. My dad came in and he was obviously gutted for me because he’d seen all the work that I’d put in.
‘I had to go back to the drawing board. Paul Kelly (Portchester chairman) offered me the opportunity first, Portchester are going to pay for my coaching badges, I’ve been at Portchy six years.
‘There’s me and probably three others who are like the originals.
‘I’ve been there a long time, got a lot of appearances for them, so Paul said to me they were going to pay for my badges to keep me there and keep me involved.
‘I just think now is the right time to get into my coaching.
‘I’m 26, I would love to still be playing, but with my record of injuries and that it’s just not going to happen so I’m just looking to get stuck into my coaching.
‘It’s a great opportunity.'
Catlin had seen at close hand the lengths Noakes went to in his rehab to make it back after the ruptured cruciate and leg break injuries.
But it was after the injury last August that he offered Noakes the opportunity to take up a coaching role.
‘I’ve got a lot of time and respect for Cats,' Noakes remarked.
‘I was laid in a hospital bed with my broken leg and he came up to see me the next day, he could see I was in a state because he knew how hard I’d worked to get back to playing.
‘He saw all the bits that a lot of people don’t see. He used to come to the club and I used to be in the gym on my own, Cats saw all the effort and hard work that I’d put in and he was just as gutted for me as I was when I broke my leg.
‘He came up to see me the next day in hospital and said he wanted me to come on board and do the coaching side.
‘I got back playing but then when I done my cruciate again he offered me a coaching role.
'In a tough time it was still a bit of a lifeline to stay in the football world.
‘I did want to get into my coaching eventually. At 26, you do still want to be playing, but it’s sort of been taken out of my hands now.'
Noakes will be part of a new-look backroom team that includes long-serving Royals coach Jay Hampson and Brett Poate and Gavin Spurway - both with a wealth of experience having played at a high level in non-league.
Portchester will be headed up by Carter, who joins having left Moneyfields where he won promotion to the Southern League during almost five and a half years at Dover Road.
Noakes believes it'll be brilliant to be part of the backroom staff and will be absorbing all the information he can with a view to one day becoming a manager in his own right.
‘I just want to grow and develop as a coach and pick up as much information as I can,' he said.
‘I’m looking to be doing a fair bit of coaching this year because that’s the best way I feel you learn is to get stuck in and do it.
‘Hopefully, I’ll be given the chance to take some sessions with the lads up there, I’m really looking forward to it.
‘I’ve been asked to go straight in with the first team. It’s a massive opportunity.
‘That is the very end long-term goal, management.
‘But it’s the same as playing, it’s quite a long ladder to work your way, it doesn’t happen overnight.
‘I do believe I’ve got some of the good qualities that would make me a good manager.
‘But as a person I want to absorb everything and learn off a lot of the people in the game.
‘Dave’s come in and he’s one of the local managers to Portsmouth who’s got a team out of the Wessex League.
‘I actually played for him at Horndean for a couple of games when he was over there.’
‘Poatey is over here as one of the coaches, obviously Poatey’s record speaks for itself.
‘You’ve got Gav Spurway as well, the wealth of experience they’re going to bring in I’m going to absorb.'
Noakes played six games for Carter at Horndean in the 2012/13 season, with Spurway a regular member of the Deans squad at the same time.