Sunday 21st of August 2011 is a day is a day that will always stay with me, the reason is simple, it was the day I achieved a childhood dream. I was still on trial as we headed to Newark to take on their under 19s side, in the Tom Mann memorial trophy, a game in which we ran out 6-0 winners and as goalkeeper, saw me keep a clean sheet which was an added bonus. After the game I was told I would be signed for the year which made me the happiest person on the planet, not just because I had just been told for the next year atleast I would be playing football every day, but because I had signed for my local team, the club I had supported since I was eight years old.
I originally came on trial as a centre midfielder but after Mark (youth team manager) had seen me play in goal for school at Field Mill the previous year, I played all but three of the pre-season friendlies between the sticks due to an injury to our first choice goalkeeper. During my trial I played in goal on nine occasions and conceded just eight goals which I really enjoyed but I couldn’t wait to get a chance out on the pitch. The first game after I signed was a friendly at home to Blidworth and our usual shot stopper at the time, Olly Medley, was back from injury. I came on at half time and scored the 7th in a 10-1 win which was the best feeling in the world, scoring at the real theatre of dreams, nothing comes close to it, no matter how many times certain people tell me it took a deflection!
Just before the first game of the season Olly left the team, which again meant that we had no goalkeeper so I was back between the sticks for our first two league games which included a 5-1 win against MMU Newcastle and a 2-2 draw with Ilkeston at Field Mill, a game which saw one of my worst moments on a football pitch, when I went out to catch a cross a collided with our right back Jordan Jones and caught him on the head with my knee. An ambulance was called for and the game was ended a few minutes early but after getting my bag together and heading straight for the hospital, the main thing was that ‘ JJ ‘ was fine and he was allowed home that evening.
Next came an under 18s cup game that due to my age I wasn’t allowed to play in which lead to one of the biggest moments of our season. Ryan Hopkins, our current goalkeeper, was bought in to play in the game and despite a 4-0 defeat, he was superb which not only helped me to get back out into midfield, but also saw him sign for the season. Ryan has played a massive part in our climb to the top of the league and our journey to the third round of the league cup, when we face Birmingham City Whites.
Since then I have played centre midfield in all of the 13 games and have taken up a role that I really enjoy. Playing just in front of the back four, it is my job to break up opposition attacks and just keep our play ticking over, allowing our more attack minded players to get forward. This role led to me being named on stagsnet as the youth team’s Anthony Howell which after his form in the early part of the season, I see as a massive compliment. Im not the sort of player that will dribble around a whole team before smashing one in the top corner, I’d rather leave that to others in the team and just keep being consistent in my performances and help the team in the way that I do by keeping things simple and putting my foot in when its needed. This role has reduced my time spent in the opposition third but since the goal against Blidworth I have scored two more, one in the 7-0 thrashing of Newcastle Town and the other a late winner in the 3-2 win at home to Boston in the first round of the cup, both at Field Mill with the latter being my favourite moment so far this season.
Hopefully there are lots more to come and if we can keep going how we are going at the minute then the league title should be ours after our final game at home to Boston on the 21st of March. If we can stay unbeaten in the final five league games and go the whole season unbeaten, that would be something else for the whole club to be proud of. As well as the league, we would love to have a real good run in the cup and if we win our next round match against Birmingham City Whites then we would book a place in the quarter final and after that, anything is possible.
Everyone around the squad has been brilliant, from the lads who apart from all being great players are also great people off the pitch, to our coaches who have guided us every step of the way. It’s also great to see the directors in particular Steve Hymas and Mark Hawkins coming to all of our games and when the first team coaches, captain and the club chairman come and watch you, then it really does inspire us and we really do appreciate their support as well as the support from the supporters that come and watch us.
I have also played in four reserve team friendlies all of which I have really enjoyed and just being around the first teamers you pick up so many little things that have helped me with my game, both on and off the pitch.
My Mansfield career started with a trophy in the Tom Mann memorial game and if we can add to that come the end of the season then it would mean so much to us all and if the first team can add to that my being promoted then as a supporter I would be on top of the World.
In a few months’ time I will find out if I am offered a professional contract for next season. If that happens then I will have achieved a dream that I have had from as long as I can remember and to sign for a club that means so much to me would be so special, if not then I will always remember the last year with great memories but I really don’t want this to ever end.
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