Big Interview: Like Rhys Lightning – former Morecambe and Oldham ace Turner hoping to make his mark for Lancaster City

Rhys Turner in action for MorecambeRhys Turner in action for Morecambe
Rhys Turner in action for Morecambe
Craig Salmon talks to Preston lad Rhys Turner who has joined Lancaster City after playing in the Football League for Oldham, Morecambe and York City

Legend has it that after the first few days of Tom Barkhuizen’s Preston career, North End defenders were banned from chasing him in training such was his fleet of foot.

Worried that his men would pick up injuries trying to keep up with the speedster, then-PNE manager Simon Grayson urged caution about attempting to stop the attacker in his tracks at Springfields.

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Barkhuizen is arguably one of the fastest players in the Football League but his speed over the ground never fazed Preston lad Rhys Turner.

Rhys Turner in action for Lancaster City (Photo: Tony North)Rhys Turner in action for Lancaster City (Photo: Tony North)
Rhys Turner in action for Lancaster City (Photo: Tony North)

Indeed the former Broughton High School pupil reckons he had the beating of ‘Barky’ over a 100-yard dash when the pair were team-mates at Morecambe.

It would probably have required a photo-finish to see who was the quickest, although Turner – who was forced to retire from the professional game in 2018 due to injury – reckons he would have had the edge over his old team-mate at his peak.

“You know what, if we were to race now, he would 100% beat me because I would be too tentative,” said Turner, who was a youth player at PNE before being released at 16.

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“In fact I would be too scared to sprint if I am truthful because of all the injuries I have had and I am still not fully fit.

“When I was fully fit back at Morecambe, I would put money on me to win, but he never wanted to race.

“The lads tried to get us to race all the time and I would say, ‘Yep, I’ll do it’.

“But he never wanted to.

“In all seriousness, Tom has done really well for himself. People like him, I am happy for.

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“He did have a tough time at Morecambe, but he turned it all around and now he’s flying.

“He’s a really good lad and it’s great to see him doing so well.”

While Barkhuizen career’s has gone to the next level, Turner – who is two years younger that the North End star – has joined Northern Premier League outfit Lancaster City this summer after spending a year out of the game.

Boasting such blistering pace, it is easy to understand how Turner managed to spend seven years as a pro, appearing in League One for Oldham Athletic on several occasions.

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Although pace was his major asset, it would also prove to be his downfall.

Like Grayson’s concern about his defenders picking up strains chasing after Barkhuizen, Turner soon discovered that he was susceptible to picking up injuries when travelling at pace.

It’s perhaps one of the main reasons why he did not go on to make more than 22 appearances for the Latics in League One, while he featured 36 times for the Shrimps in League Two between 2016 and 2018.

He eventually ended his full-time career in the summer of 2019 when he left Barrow after making just 11 appearances for the Cumbrians in the National League.

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“I don’t particularly like answering the question of what I could have achieved without the injuries,” Turner said.

“All of the managers who I have played under always said that I could go as high as I wanted.

“But when people ask me now why I am no longer a professional footballer, I just say because I wasn’t good enough.

“Talent is only one half of it. If my body wasn’t good enough to deal with being a professional footballer, then I wasn’t good enough.

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“I do feel like if my body was right, I could have played a high as I wanted to do.

“Obviously you need a bit of luck and get picked up by a good club or win a promotion here or there.

“I grew up thinking that I could definitely play as high as I wanted.”

Turner’s fitness issues were certainly not the result of being unprofessional.

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He lived the life of a pro, it was just purely bad luck that his body would constantly break down.

“It was always my hamstrings,” Turner said.

“I had a few bad injuries at times, like broken bones and I fractured my metatarsal once.

“But nine times out of 10 the reason I wouldn’t be playing was because of my hamstrings.

“We never really got to the bottom of why that was.

“I was sent to see the best specialists, the best physios but everybody seemed to give me a different answer.

“I had injections, but nothing seemed to work.

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“I think when I left Barrow, the manager Ian Evatt did a news piece where he just said some people need the luck and Rhys just didn’t have the luck with his body. He had all the ability but his body was not on his side.

“I knew how professional I was. I did things right.

“I would be the first one into training and be in the gym at the end when everybody else had gone home.

“It became really frustrating. To work so hard like I did and to breakdown every time – it was tough.”

Turner is not afraid to admit that the difficulties he faced during his career had a major effect on him mentally.

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He revealed that he is in a far better place now in terms of his mind.

Off the pitch Turner is a support worker helping troubled children, and off it he is looking forward to an enjoyable season with Lancaster.

“It’s not really a career thing for me,” said Turner, who played a couple of games for the Dolly Blues when he was a teenager while studying at Myerscough College.

“Joining Lancaster is not about getting my career back on track.

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“I just want to keep playing football at a decent standard. I just want to play and enjoy it. I know that the more games I play for Lancaster then the better I will become and the better Lancaster will become.

“The hardest thing for me when I was a pro was ringing Ian Evatt up at Barrow and telling him I was calling it a day.

“I am far happier now that at any time when I was a professional footballer.

“A lot of people don’t realise how tough football is.

“People just see the premier League stars and how much money they earn but it’s a different story when you’re grafting away in the National League, earning peanuts and always getting injured.

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“You can end up in a pretty dark place. I probably could have got over the injuries but it was the mental side of things which was the hardest.”

Despite arguably not reaching his full potential, Turner still feels proud that he managed to fulfil a boyhood ambition and play in the Football League.

He has plenty of good memories, including appearances against Premier League outfits such as Newcastle and Bournemouth in the cup, while his League One debut was certainly memorable.

“I made my debut for Oldham as a substitute against my home town club Preston,” he said. “Preston is quite a small place and I know a lot of people. When I came on I was expecting to get loads of stick from the away end but I ended up getting a round of applause which was nice.

“I have some good memories such as scoring two goals in the Oldham/Rochdale derby one time.

“I do feel proud I managed to be a professional and play in the Football League.”