IN A week when Raheem Sterling became the most expensive English footballer of all time by joining Manchester City for an exorbitant £49 million, there is something cleansing about listening to a player reflect on life as a window fitter.
Far from the blinding hype and outrageous wealth at the pinnacle of the game, Hibernian’s latest signing Marvin Bartley enjoyed a far more relatable road to the professional game.
The 29-year-old spent his formative years turning out for Burnham, Hayes and Didcot Town in the lower reaches of the English pyramid. He combined those football commitments with a day job at a double glazing firm, carrying out the installations.
While not quite as peculiar as Rickie Lambert’s stint in a beetroot factory, it is hardly the standard career path for a player who went on to play 60 matches in the English Championship and command a £350,000 transfer fee.
Like his close friend, Charlie Austin, who has risen from non-league football to the cusp on international recognition, Bartley insists his roots in part-time football have only made him more determined to succeed and appreciate his opportunities in the sport.
“I only turned to professional football when I was 21,” he recalled. “Before that I was in non-league football, working as a double-glazer.
“I think that grounding makes me grateful for everything I have in football and all that I have achieved in the game. It also makes me hungry to achieve even more – hopefully the league title at Hibs.
“It was a good route for me to go down. Being 18, and making your way in the game, some people might think ‘I don’t want to be playing non-league and working’, but it has helped me massively. It builds life skills and has made me the man I am today.
Bartley signed a two-year deal with Hibs yesterday after turning down the opportunity to remain at Leyton Orient, who were relegated from League One last term despite boasting one of the largest budgets in the division. The club’s Italian owners, he explained, had plenty of cash but little knowledge of the game.
Prior to that, he worked under two of the most highly-rated coaches in English football, Eddie Howe and Sean Dyche, during stints at Bournemouth and Burnley.
He cultivated a successful relationship with Howe, in particular, and paid new boss Alan Stubbs the ultimate compliment by insisting he is “very similar” to the man who led the Cherries to the Barclays Premier League.
“From the kitman to the directors, everyone seems to share the same ambition and drive,” he said. “That is unusual and very much reminded me of when I was at Bournemouth. It was a close-knit place and to see people of a similar ilk here was a massive plus.
“Speaking to the gaffer [Stubbs], he is very similar to Eddie Howe in the way he comes across, the drive he has and the way he wants to play his football. They are very similar in their football philosophy and that was a huge factor for me.”
Bartley, who could play against Dunfermline at East End Park today, also sounded out another of his best friends in football, ex-Hibee Tom Soares, about the switch to Leith.
Soares endured a miserable six-month loan spell in the capital during the 2011-12 campaign, culminating in the humiliating 5-1 Scottish Cup final defeat by Hearts. Nevertheless, the 29-year-old, now on the books of Bury, gave Hibs a glowing recommendation.
“Tom is my friend and he spoke to me from that perspective, with honesty,” added Bartley. “He told me about how things worked out here. He came here during hard times and would be the first to acknowledge that he wasn’t at his fittest and he found it really hard.
“It would have been easy for him to say ‘no, don’t go up there, it’s not worth it’. But he talked it up and the facilities have lived up to those expectations.”
With 6ft 3in Bartley destined to fill the void left by midfield destroyers Scott Robertson and Liam Craig, Hibs head coach Stubbs said: “His experience, energy and attributes will benefit the team. We were looking to bring in another midfielder and Marvin fits the bill. He will be an important signing for us.”