THE flights were booked and Chris Stokes was in the Forest Green departure lounge until a late call from boss Dave Hockaday grounded the former Bolton Wanderers left-back,writes Rob Iles.

At a low ebb following his release from Premiership side Bolton Wanderers in the summer of 2010, Stokes found himself down the pecking order at Forest Green after a brief spell at Southern League side Swindon Supermarine and having gone three months without making an appearance he booked his flights for a move to to join Cypriot side AEL Limassol.

However, following a 4-0 defeat at Southport that saw Craig Armstrong suffer concussion and Scott Bartlett sent off, Rovers were facing a left-back crisis and Stokes shelved his plans to answer Hockaday’s SOS call.

The former England youth international hasn’t looked back since and was named supporters' player of the season after Rovers' final home game of the season against Darlington on Saturday.

He said: “The decision was hard but I definitely made the right decision.

"When I first came on trial, my head wasn't in the right place.

"I was a bit edgy and I didn't know whether I was going to stay in football but Dave helped me massively, he settled me down had a chat with me and said come back.

"I came in and did well and he kept me in the team, so it's been a bit of a whirlwind since that game.

"I was unfortunately released from Bolton and I want to get back to that level. Dave's given me the foundation to do that and hopefully I can kick on at Forest Green.”

Stokes has been an ever-present in the third stingiest defence in the Blue Square Premier this season, playing every game since missing the opener against Stockport through suspension.

Rovers are currently on course to equal their highest ever finish of eighth as they head into the last game of the season at York City on Saturday, and are one point off their previous best haul of 71 under former boss Jim Harvey.

With ambitious owner Dale Vince set to pour more money into the club over the summer, Stokes believes they will be geared up for a genuine promotion push next season.

"We've got nothing to be afraid of so I think we've got a realistic chance as long as we keep the players in the summer, and if we add one or two we definitely can," he said.

"We beat Wrexham (twice), and we went to (champions) Fleetwood and got a result there.

"We've had the same back four for most of the season and I think that's been key to our clean sheets and defensive record.”

Stokes also paid tribute to the fans for his award. He said: "It's a privilege to win that off the fans, who have been great this season, so I'd like to thank them very much for that.”