Former Forest Green goalkeeper James Bittner catches Plymouth lifeline

Gazette Series: Former Forest Green goalkeeper James Bittner has penned a one-year deal at Plymouth Former Forest Green goalkeeper James Bittner has penned a one-year deal at Plymouth

FORMER Forest Green goalkeeper James Bittner is delighted to be back in the game after signing for League Two outfit Plymouth Argyle.

Former fans' favourite Bittner,32, has been on the books of nine different clubs in the bottom two divisions of the Football League and the Conference, and has managed to get himself another year of work after signing for Plymouth Argyle, as back-up to first choice Luke McCormick.

Bittner told BBC Sport: "It's been a tough 12 months for me on the football stage so I'm dying to start and hopefully have a good year," said Bittner.

"It was a case of being a builder or being a coach. Trying to find a playing contract mid-season is an absolute nightmare.

"I enjoyed it, but the plan was to always try and get back to be a player.

"When I got the phone call last week it was the chance of a lifetime, back in the league and back at a big club like Plymouth as well."

After starting last season on a short-term deal to cover injuries at Newport County, Bittner was forced to leave the club when their first-choice goalkeepers returned to fitness.

He eventually joined Salisbury City, who have since been thrown out of Conference for financial reasons, as goalkeeping coach, a role he held until their untimely demise earlier this summer.

His summer is not unusual among footballers lower down the leagues as finances are squeezed ever tighter.

Fewer and fewer get deals that last longer than a season, meaning the summer is not just uncertain from a footballing point of view, but from a financial one as well.

James Bittner Has never played a game in the Football League Made his Conference debut for Exeter City in August 2003 in a 1-1 draw with Halifax Last match was for Salisbury City in a 2-1 loss to Luton in April "I've got a partner and two young kids," Bittner says.

"The bigger teams are getting bigger and the smaller teams are getting smaller.

"It's getting harder and harder each year for lower league footballers to find new contracts and find new clubs. It's getting to a point now where you're thinking, 'where will the next contract come from?'.

"Leaving Newport mid-season I found it so hard finding a playing contract it was a case of getting a 'normal' job or luckily I had the option of being a coach as well, so I took the coaching opportunity."

Bittner has played 255 games in a professional career that started 13 years ago.

He has often struggled to make his way into the first team - at three of the clubs he signed for, Bournemouth, Torquay United and Newport County, he never played a match.

But he has had experience, playing almost the entire season for Hereford in the Conference Premier in 2012-13 before leaving the club after a season.

"Everyone wants to be a player for as long as they can and 32 is still relatively young for a goalkeeper, hopefully," he added.

"I played 40-odd games for Hereford the year before last and have played games recently."

But he faces a tough fight if he is to figure in Argyle's first team, with McCormick established as the number one between the posts.

"Luke's a hero here and he's been here for years and played in League Two, League One and the Championship," said Bittner.

"He's a great goalkeeper, a fan's favourite and also a nice lad as well. He'll start as first choice and my role is to push Luke and compete with Luke.

"But if I can impress I might get a chance."

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