Colby Bishop takes to a chair, with a smile on his face. An empty manager’s office, just hours before a cup final; pride fills the room. The Leamington striker reflects on his season and his underlying love for football, which is stronger than ever.
The grin never leaves the face of Bishop, even when looking back on his injury-disrupted time at Notts County.
The writing was on the wall after the striker sustained an anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) injury, forcing Bishop to take the non-league route in a bid to kick-start his career, initially with Worcester City.
“I was gutted [being released by Notts County],” said the 22-year-old. “I understood their decision because sometimes it’s hard to come back from an injury like that.
“I came to the Conference and it was a new lease of life for me.
“I’ve loved football ever since and I’ve probably loved it even more than before.”
Eight goals in 25 starts at Worcester City hinted at the talent Bishop possessed but a fruitless spell at Boston United threatened to derail his renaissance.
Step forward Leamington. Manager Paul Holleran spoke of his unusual first meeting with Bishop. “He met me in McDonalds in Nottingham,” laughs Holleran. “Him and his dad, so that worked out well for him.”
Leamington often “look for a gamble,” he added.
The forward’s injury problems caught up with him on Boxing Day 2017. This time surgery was required and he missed the remainder of the season.
Lengthy spells on the sidelines can be damaging for any player, especially those who have yet to find their feet at a club. Motivation is key to the rehabilitation process and “strong-minded” Bishop had this in gallons.
“As I knew the operation was coming, I thought I could push on then because it will be done,” says Bishop, “I was just looking forward to coming back and doing what I know I can do.”
Since his return from injury in October, however, the striker has surpassed expectations, notching 29 goals as Brakes finished the season in a lofty 13th position.
But despite his impressive goal tally, Bishop still believes there is room for improvement. “I’m quite critical of myself sometimes. I’ve done quite well coming back from an injury.
“I’ve loved playing again and not having anything in the back of my head, just enjoying my football. When I enjoy my football, the goals come.”
For Holleran, Bishop’s run of form was the perfect antidote to Matty Stenson’s move to Solihull Moors.
“He’s had a great year. It’s been perfect for us because we’ve had a top number nine all season, Matty at the start and now Colby.
“Between the two of them, they’ve probably got 40 goals and we’ve never had that.”
Alongside Bishop’s goals, he has also contributed a number of assists, something he also takes a great deal of pride in.
“Assisting someone else is just as good as scoring a goal,” he says. “They have to assist me and it feels good to repay the favour sometimes.”
Holleran was also full of praise for the striker’s hard-working style of play which has helped Leamington to a highest league finish since their resurrection in 2000 and the Birmingham Senior Challenge Cup - a night where Bishop added two more to his tally.
“He’s a clever number nine. He works hard for the team; he’ll come back and defend set-plays. There is always part of me thinking ‘how am I going to replace this one?’”
Leamington have a superb track record when it comes to reigniting careers, with former Sky Blue Courtney Baker-Richardson having recently made the move to Swansea City after an impressive season under Holleran’s leadership.
“You could never doubt Courtney’s physical attributes. We just got him more composed, got his head back on it,” says Holleran.
“He started enjoying football again, started believing in himself. He just needed the right managing.”
Despite Bishop signing an improved contract, a switch to the Football League remains the aim.
But for now Leamington and Holleran are just happy to be the latest chapter in the striker’s climb back to the Pro game.
“I love to see stories like this, people with their back up against the wall and they come out fighting,” states Holleran. “He’s a great kid, we love having him.”