FROM Blackburn to Bengal, it has been some footballing journey for Anthony Pilkington.

A career that started in the North West Counties Football League, the Blackburn-born forward now finds himself playing in the Indian Super League - thanks to a ‘surreal’ phone call from Robbie Fowler.

Pilkington is no stranger to his travels having spent a collective eight seasons at Norwich and Cardiff City but this is a first foray to foreign shores.

When the 32-year-old returned to his native North West to play for Wigan last season, his career, in a geographical sense at least, had come full circle - just seven miles from Atherton Collieries where it had all started some 15 years earlier.

He thought he was home to stay but a points deduction and relegation from the Championship to League One left Wigan in tatters and Pilkington searching for a new club.

“It was great being back home with my family and I know my parents were definitely glad to see me back after living away for so long at Norwich and Cardiff,” Pilkington told the Lancashire Telegraph. “But obviously what went on at Wigan was gutting, the owners decided they wanted to rip apart a club that had been successful over the years.

“I had a few offers but having played in the Premier League and Championship for so long they weren’t really the ones I wanted.

“I felt that I needed something fresh and a different challenge.

“I knew that I might have to look at something different coming to this stage of my career and the way football is back home at the moment with the virus.

“So I said to my agent I was open to offers abroad and to see what was available.”

Then came the call from Fowler to join Sporting Club East Bengal in their debut season in Indian Super League - a call Pilkington admitted he didn’t know was a wind-up or an offer.

“It was a bit surreal when he phoned me up,” said Pilkington. “I really thought it was a wind up at first.

“But he phoned and asked if I would be interested. He explained the situation with the club, what he wanted to do going forward and obviously explained how big the club is over here in Indian and worldwide as well.”

While it is a new challenge for Pilkington, it is also his toughest test, having to leave wife Jo and his boys Alfie and Luca back home in East Lancashire.

“It has been really difficult, obviously it is a bit easier these days with FaceTime and that but it is not the same as being face to face and that interaction with the kids,” said Pilkington who was released by Blackburn Rovers when he was 15-years-old.

“I think the longest I have been away from them is 10 days when we did a pre-season once in America and we are coming up to a month now and it has been tough.”

Despite finding himself more than 4,000 miles from home, there is a distinct Ewood old boys flavour to the Bengal set-up with Fowler, Bobby Mimms, Terry McPhillips and Tony Grant - who also played for Burnley and Accrington Stanley - all on the coaching staff.

“I think most of the staff have been involved with Blackburn at some point,” said Pilkington. “Robbie and Bobby obviously played and Granty and Terry McPhillips both coached.

“So there is quite a lot of staff who have been involved at Blackburn so it is a good little connection.”

There are some familiar faces playing in India as well with former teammates Gary Hooper (Norwich) and Adam Le Fondre (Cardiff) playing for Kerala Blasters and Mumbai City respectively while ex-Burnley defender Danny Fox also made the move from Wigan to East Bengal.

Pilkington is still coming to terms with living in India in a league that, just like the rest of the world, has been hit by the coronavirus pandemic.

East Bengal would normally play their home games at the 70,000-seater Salt Lake Stadium in Kolkata. Instead, the entire ISL will be played in three stadiums in Goa with each club allocated a team hotel.

“It was tough at first as we had to quarantine for 14 days which we only found out when we got here,” said Pilkington who has signed a one season deal. “I’m getting used to a different way of living for now.

“The heat over here with the training, the humidity, it’s a lot different to playing back home in Darwen so that is something I have to get use to.”

While it is East Bengal’s first season in the ISL, they are a club steeped in tradition and celebrate their 100th season this year.

They kick off their season on November 27 against biggest rivals ATK Mohun Bagan - a game that would normally bring the city to a standstill.

Instead it will be played behind-closed-doors.

“It’s is a massive game over here, it’s actually one of the biggest derbies in the world, I think it got voted fourth or fifth,” added Pilkington.

“A few years ago, it was the semi final of the cup and there was 120,000 in the stadium and the boys were saying that with the stadiums now fully seated, there would be 70,000 in the ground and another 70,000 outside trying to get in.

“It is a huge, huge derby. It’s massive so that will be a good game to get us going.”

Despite being in the latter stages of his career this is not Pilkington’s ‘Indian Summer’ as far as he is concerned.

“I definitely think I can still do a job back home but let’s see how the season goes with East Bengal,” he said. “Hopefully we have a successful season and then see what happens.

“You can only concentrate on the here and now and that is the main objective; try and be as successful as we can be in the first season for the club and for myself.”