Dion Charles on journey from part-time to Parma with Northern Ireland
FOOTBALLERS going to court normally follows bad behaviour but Dion Charles's regular appearances there were the result of his work ethic.
His efforts in recent years have taken him from a part-time post with a law firm while playing non-league football into the Northern Ireland squad for a World Cup qualifier away to Italy.
Had anyone outlined that journey to him when he was lining out for the likes of Halifax or Southport, he admits "You'd have laughed at them, wouldn't you? But it would have made me work harder to get there.
"At the back of my mind, my mentality is that I wanted to achieve and I wouldn't have stopped at anything to get there."
As further evidence of his dedication, he hasn't drunk alcohol since celebrating the birth of his son Hudson 18 months ago, and at times has gone to the gym every day of the week.
After being released by Blackpool, his playing career has taken in Fylde, Skelmersdale, Fleetwood, Halifax, Southport, and now Accrington Stanley.
"At the very start I had a little part-time job," the 25-year-old recalls. "I used to work in a barristers' chambers. It was a doddle.
"I'd get the briefs out for them in the morning so they could take them into court if they needed them. I got friendly with a couple of them and I'd take the briefs up to court for them."
Despite seeing some "juicy" trials at Crown Court in his hometown of Preston, as well as Magistrates and Family Court, a life on the bench was not for him, on of off the pitch.
Instead, he kept plugging away at his football: "You never know when your career is going to finish so you can't take anything for granted. You have to work hard every day and play every game as if it is your last. Cherish every moment…
"I was told when younger that you don't get anywhere without working hard and I've put in the long, hard yards behind the scenes where people don't see. Like going to the gym five, six, seven times a week to get myself into the best shape I can physically and mentally.
"Hopefully it's what has helped me get here today. Because I've got here and have had a bit of success it doesn't mean you can stop doing what you did previously….If that is what I need to do to get where I want I will. It's a big sacrifice but hopefully it will pay off."
Fatherhood has changed him too, he says. "I've got an 18-month-old, Hudson. It has made me grow up fast. Made me realise that what you do now isn't just for the benefit of me, it's for my family. That's my extra motivation to do well.
"I don't drink. I wet the baby's head 18 months ago and that was the last time I had a drink. I've been super dedicated to get where I want to.
"If I look back in five, 10 years' time and haven't got where I wanted to I can at least hold up my hands and say I gave it my best shot. But it wasn't good enough or wasn't the right time but I did my best."
All that effort could see him get some game-time against Italian defensive legends like Giorgio Chiellini and Leonardo Bonucci, given that Conor Washington is out injured while Liam Boyce's involvement has been delayed due to his wife expecting their second child.
The upbeat Charles, who has netted 18 goals this season with Accrington Stanley, is not fazed by that prospect:
"I take it in my stride. It's not every day you go to play against former World champions but you just have to be confident. If I get the opportunity, it'll be no different to what I've been doing this year, I'll grab it with both hands."
Indeed those 30-somethings are warned that Charles will go at them: "You gauge how your opponents like to play, any weaknesses that they might have that you can exploit.
"For me, I'm quite fast and direct, so I target the slower defender, I know that I can beat him in a foot race."
Whether or not he runs out in tomorrow night's opening World Cup qualifier, Dion Charles's amazing trip will continue:
"I never lost hope. From where I was a few years ago until now it's been a long journey so I had to be patient.
"I knew if I was playing consistently and scoring goals at club level I was always going to be in the back of the manager's thoughts. I've been fortunate enough to be given the opportunity so I'm thankful and ready to be called upon."