From Swansea release to Wales call-up - Marley Watkins' football journey

Marley Watkins
Marley Watkins has scored 15 goals in 76 league games for Barnsley

Barnsley's Marley Watkins describes his Wales call-up as "a dream come true" but the path to international recognition has not be an easy one.

Watkins, 26, has been included in a 26-man squad for a training camp in Portugal ahead of June's World Cup qualifier in Serbia.

"It's been a long journey," Watkins told BBC Wales Sport after he was named in Chris Coleman's squad.

"I always told myself never to give up and aim as high as possible, no matter how hard it got.

"I kept working hard and over time I feel it's paid off. I'm looking forward to continuing it."

Watkins' journey started following his release as a 17-year-old by Swansea City, a decision which left the youngster "hurt" and in tears.

"At the time you don't know what you're going to do," Watkins added.

Marley Watkins
Watkins celebrates after scoring the opening goal for Inverness Caledonian Thistle in the 2015 Scottish Cup final

"But I thought 'stick at it', went to exit trials and Cheltenham, who were in League One at the time, picked me up."

Watkins became Cheltenham's youngest-ever player when he made his debut as a substitute in a game against Northampton Town in August 2008.

"It didn't work out personally there. I broke through but I didn't play regularly as much as I wanted," Watkins said.

"There were a lot of changes in managers so I had to drop down to the Conference."

He joined Bath City on loan in September 2010, making the move permanent the following January before spending a season at Hereford United.

"I kept signing short contracts and putting it all on the line really, making sure I performed and kept getting moves and kept climbing," he added.

"When a Scottish Premiership team came in I felt that was my route to come back to England at a higher level."

Inverness Caledonian Thistle were the Scottish side which signed Watkins in June 2013.

"I went for it and that paid off," Watkins said of his time in Scotland, during which he scored in Caley Thistle's Scottish Cup final win over Falkirk in 2015.

Watkins secured a move back to English football in June 2015 with a move to Barnsley and in his first season with the club won the Football League Trophy and secured promotion to the Championship via the play-offs.

He scored 10 goals during Barnsley's 2016-17 season in the Championship but looks set to leave this summer after rejecting a new contract offered by the Oakwell club.

Vernon Watkins
Marley's grandfather Vernon Watkins, who died in 1967, worked at Bletchley Park during the Second World War

Watkins has been on standby player previously but his call up for the forthcoming training camp in Portugal will be his first time in the Wales squad.

The Lewisham-born player, also eligible to represent France as well as England and Wales, is looking forward to linking up with Coleman's squad but will not be overawed by the experience.

"I think you should act like you belong there otherwise what's the point if you don't believe in yourself," he said.

"It will be a great experience to play with top players like Aaron Ramsey and can only benefit your game.

"Hopefully I can be a regular part of it."

Watkins' grandfather is the late Welsh poet Vernon Watkins, who was a good friend of fellow Welsh poet and writer Dylan Thomas.

Vernon Watkins' widow Gwen is now in her 90s but keeps up to date with grandson's progress through modern technology from her home in Swansea.

"She's my biggest fan and I take a lot of inspiration from her and I play for her," Watkins said.

"Her computer is filled with clips of my games, even forums which I don't think she should read sometimes.

"It keeps her mind occupied and she's always checking my scores and it's inspiring to do well for her."

Watkins says winning a Wales cap would be a "proud moment" for himself and his family and for friends who have supported him during his career.

"I definitely appreciate it," Watkins reflects.

"It's a ruthless sport where dreams are crushed and I'm really grateful that it's worked out for me."

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