He packed in football for six months to travel but now Salisbury's Giles is up for the Cup
Chris Giles’ footballing career has been unremarkable. An FA Trophy final, a Conference play-off final and a 12-minute substitute Football League cameo appearance for Yeovil eight years ago.
Yet how many players take a six-month break in the middle of a season to go backpacking around Asia How many are so struck by the poverty they encounter in Cambodia that they spend an evening buying food and distributing it among street families And how many set up a charity to send unwanted football shirts to communities ravaged by HIV in the Third World
Well-travelled: Salisbury City captain Chris Giles
Should Giles, 29, lead Blue Square South club Salisbury City to FA Cup glory at Bramall Lane against Sheffield United – a club with a rich recent history in the competition – he may just redress the balance a tad. If not, his tale is still a triumph.
Having joined Salisbury in January 2010, the central defender was caught up in the club’s financial meltdown that summer when they were relegated two divisions as punishment.
He stayed and was made club captain but negotiated himself a leave of absence to go travelling with his fiance Catherine and satisfy a wanderlust.
In it to win it: Salisbury pose with the FA Cup
‘I had had this burning ambition to travel for a few years,’ said Giles. ‘I realise how lucky I am to be in football even at a lower standard. It’s still a great job, a great life but it was something I felt I had to do. The lads say I’m a weirdo anyway.
‘The first eight weeks were spent mainly in hospitals because my fiance got very ill, mostly with Delhi belly. Then when we were in Tibet she snapped her ankle.’
Thereafter, their adventure was mostly about fun and interacting with the locals yet the omnipresent poverty in Asia also led them to rich experiences.
All aboard: Giles gets on the coach to Sheffield
‘We couldn’t handle it at times, so we just tried to do our little bit. Maybe that was us trying to clear our own consciences but we would turn up at orphanages and offer our services for the day.
‘We taught lessons, English, and I would play football and strange playground games with the kids. There was one orphanage in Nepal for children of women who had been kidnapped and caught up in human trafficking for the sex trade.’
Throughout the trip, Giles maintained his fitness in preparation for his return to Salisbury last July, although he soon gave away his club kit to a street urchin – ‘there’s some little Indian somewhere running around in a Salisbury City No 6 training kit.’
Dedicated: Giles kept himself fit on his travels
‘Coming back definitely sparked my love for football again. I’ve not played in the third round of the Cup before. The best thing about this tie is there might even be an opportunity of the fourth round if we can keep it 0-0 for 60 minutes.’
Whatever the outcome on Saturday, Giles already has his next venture planned. As well as his new ‘Kits For Causes’ charity, he is planning another foreign excursion in the summer – this time driving a camper van around Europe.
A footballing life less ordinary.