‘There’s probably a million people who would have loved to have done what I’ve done’ – Moneyfields defender Sam Pearce on his Hampshire non-league career
Any chance Sam Pearce had of getting a proper crack at trying to make it as a professional footballer was cruelly ended in his teenage years.
Involved in Southampton s academy set up and offered a scholarship at the age of 15, disaster would strike for the former Hawks and Gosport defender on his then daily walk home from Purbrook Park School.
Pearce, now 34, was hit by a car, breaking both of his shoulders and resulting in a six-month spell on the sidelines.
Such was his loss of confidence during his recovery, he was unable to accept the scholarship terms which remained on the table from Southampton despite his injury setback.
To this day, Pearce still holds a slight 'regret' at not returning to give things a go as a scholar, although his accident has failed to prevent him forging a non-league career played largely in the Conference South and littered with fond memories.
Handed his first senior appearance as a fresh faced 16-year-old by joint managers Mick Jenkins and Liam Daish in 2004 after joining Hawks following his shoulder injury, the no-nonsense defender, now at Moneyfields, is still playing some 17 seasons later.
Some feat, indeed, but Pearce just feels fortunate to have enjoyed some of the career highlights he has - although he has no plans to hang up the boots just yet.
‘I got offered a scholarship at Southampton at 15, as you do, then got hit by a car walking home from school and broke both my shoulders. I just kind of fell into non-league then,' recalled Pearce.
‘I ended up having six months out and Southampton offered me to go back, but I didn’t think I was ready to go back at that point.
‘They (Southampton) always said to me come back but I never did. It was probably the biggest mistake I ever made, really, in that sense of being a little insecure and knowing whether I’d be as good as I was at the time - that’s why I never went back.
‘As a young kid you always dream of being the next David Beckham, Wayne Rooney or whatever.
‘But I think whenever I do give up I can look back on it and say there’s probably a million people who would have loved to have done what I’ve done.
'When you sit back and think about it (career achievements), it’s been alright.'
Pearce, who Moneyfields in the summer of 2017 after they had won promotion from the Wessex to the Southern League, has had two stints at Hawks and spells at Salisbury - briefly playing full-time in the Conference - Bognor and Farnborough.
But it's being part of a Gosport team during an historic spell under Alex Pike where the defender feels he was at his best.
Initially moving to Privett Park on loan from Hawks in 2012/13, Pearce became a regular but was unable to play a part towards the back end of Borough's promotion to the Conference South via the play-offs.
His temporary switch to Gosport could only last a maximum of 90 days and the clubs failed to agree a permanent move, although he would end up there that summer.
Pearce - a keen all-round sportsman who played cricket for Purbrook CC for several years – stayed for a little more than three seasons, coinciding with the best spell in the club's history.
Following back-to-back promotions, which Pearce missed out on, Gosport made it to Wembley where they were beaten in the FA Trophy final by Cambridge.
They also finished three points off a Conference South play-off spot in the 2014-15 season. And it's a period that brings back the fondest memories for Pearce, who remembered: 'The club went on a rise, they got back-to-back promotions, I knew all the lads anyway because I’d played with them all.
‘I probably enjoyed two-and-half or three years of the most success and probably played the best football of my career as well on a personal note.
‘I was in with my mates, Nathan Ashmore is one of my best mates and he was there, there was Poatey (Brett Poate) cropping up again and a few of the other lads.
‘It had always been that Havant sent players to Gosport because they were a couple of leagues below; there were always a few similar faces, but Nath and Poatey and that played quite a big part in getting me there permanently.
‘It was a great place to be, the dressing room was a good place to be, you were playing with your mates and everything was good.
‘It was probably the highlight, that two-and-a-half year period, it was really good.
‘The occasion, definitely (Wembley experience the best), to play in front of nearly 19,000 or whatever it was on the day, it was obviously an amazing occasion.
‘There are a lot better footballers in the world than me who haven’t played there, so to be able to say you have in a competitive match is amazing.'
The Privett Park fairytale began to turn into a nightmare as Gosport began to encounter financial troubles after their remarkable rise.
Pearce left the club for Farnborough, winning promotion via the Southern League Division One Central play-offs in 2017 prior to joining Moneyfields that summer.
He has remained at Dover Road ever since, captaining the club as they have established themselves in the Southern League.
But Pearce, still eager to keep playing, remains unaware of what's next for him with Moneys manager Dave Carter recently taking on the AFC Portchester manager's role.
He said: ‘I started working for Dave probably nine months before I signed for Moneys, so I suppose there was only one place I was going to end up, really.
‘It was carrying on from the Gosport success, I dropped down with Farnborough and got promoted there and every year we’ve achieved a new record at Moneyfields.
‘We got in the play-offs the first year in the Southern League, to achieving the best cup runs they’ve had in the FA Cup, getting further than they’ve ever got in the FA Trophy.
‘It’s just been continued success, really, for the past two or three years. Definitely for the first two seasons but the last two have been decimated by Covid.
‘It’s been brilliant, carrying on from the Gosport lads where we got branded as the ‘Crazy Gang’ or whatever, to have three or four of them at Moneyfields made the transition easy.
‘The lads were brilliant, it’s been really enjoyable.
'It’s getting harder having family and stuff now so that always starts playing a part in it (on continuing playing).
‘There’s a couple more (seasons) in there, maybe.
‘I think I’ve always been that way inclined (coaching or management). But I’m trying not to think about that at the moment, that’s a bit further down the line hopefully.'