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I'D HAVE QUIT IF IT WASN'T FOR CYRILLE; Uncle's help put striker Roberts back on track.

Byline: GRAHAM HILL

ALBION striker Jason Roberts may be taking the Premiership by storm at the moment - but he could just as easily have quit football before his career had even started.

Roberts has adapted superbly to top-flight football since the Baggies won promotion last year.

And any fears that his foot problems of last season might hold him back were soon dispelled with a series of dangerous displays.

The 24-year-old has proved himself one of the surprise packages of this season's Premiership for those outside The Hawthorns.

And a new two-year extension to his current contract means that Albion have been able to tie down their prize asset until 2006.

But the London-born forward, a record pounds 2 million signing when he signed for the Baggies two years ago, could have been working in an office now instead of testing himself against some of the world's top defenders.

Trial

It was only the intervention of his uncle, Albion legend Cyrille Regis, that got him back on track at a time when he was ready to give up the game.

Roberts had just had a trial with Wycombe Wanderers, where Regis was playing at the time. When nothing came of it, he decided that perhaps football was not for him.

Regis then stepped in and got him a game with his former non-League club, Hayes, and Roberts began his climb towards the top flight.

Roberts may have taken a long-winded route to the Premiership, but he has glad to have the experience of the real world behind him.

'Playing Premiership football is definitely earning a living,' he said.

'But not too many players know what it's like to go and work a normal nine to five.

'That's what I did and it's probably what I'd be doing now if I hadn't gone back to football at a time when I thought it maybe wasn't for me.

'It certainly makes me appreciate what I have now.'

Roberts remembers his days at Wycombe, and it was all a far cry from the position he finds himself in today.

Then, the Buckinghamshire club did not seem to appreciate what a raw talent they had on their hands and Roberts' interest soon faded.

'I did okay for the first couple of months but then my enthusiasm started to wane,' he said.

'After that, I didn't even play football for another year or so. I wasn't really thinking about it and I might never have done anything about it after that, but then Uncle Cyrille stepped in again and got me a trial at Hayes.

'I had been thinking that there were a lot of talented players out there who just never made it and that I was one.

'But going to Hayes meant it all took off from there really. I was lucky to get another chance and I took it.'

However, Roberts still took some convincing that football could be a full-time profession for him. Even when his appetite for the game returned, he still held down an office job.

'I was an exports clerk when I played for Hayes,' he said. 'It mainly involved exporting items abroad.

'I was working for a company called JAG-UFS in Feltham. I still speak to some of the guys from there and it was really good.'

Roberts had two Premiership goals to his name going into yesterday's clash against Southampton.

Progression

But the former Wolves striker says that, rather than looking to stand out in the top division, he is treating Albion's Premiership adventure as a natural progression.

Roberts caused Manchester United's defence plenty of problems in the first game of the season and gave a sign of what was to come even though the Baggies lost that match.

'I have played in all four divisions now, in sequence,' he said. 'The Premiership is the next level for me.

'I was injured a lot of the time when Albion were in the First Division but, when I did play, I thought I handled it pretty well.

'When we went to Manchester United on the opening day of this season, I treated it like another league game and as if it was no different from playing anywhere else. The difference is that you know your opponents a lot better and the TV coverage is greater.

'But think it's a progression for me and the club to be where we are.

'The boys did really well on that day at United, and when I got the ball I thought 'let's get at them and see what happens'. But I need the team around me. They have defended so well recently.'

Roberts also says that the Albion dressing room resembles a newsagent's shop sometimes as boss Gary Megson is quick to pass around any articles suggesting that the Baggies will flop in the top flight.

Danny Baker has been among the pundits to predict Albion are on their way straight back down but wins over Fulham and West Ham show that Megson's men are ready to survive.

'There is a fighting spirit in this squad and no-one has really taken that into account,' said Roberts.

'The people who have a go at us have probably never seen us play. Ask them now and it might be a different thing.

'And anything that takes the Mickey out of us can only motivate us more. The manager hands out press cuttings if he finds that anyone's been having a go. If anybody wants to write something bad about us, please do!

'But we have to keep up performances and grind out results. Hopefully those wins will be enough at the end of the season.'

CAPTION(S):

STEADY CLIMB... Jason Roberts has moved up through the divisions INSPIRATION... Robert's uncle Cyrille Regis in action
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Title Annotation:Football
Publication:Sunday Mercury (Birmingham, England)
Date:Sep 15, 2002
Words:962
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