Emerging central defender Jarrad Branthwaite made club history on two counts on Tuesday night when he became the club’s youngest ever goal scorer and then again when, following the second-half substitution of Nathaniel Knight-Percival, he pulled on the captain’s armband to become the youngest ever first team skipper.
Speaking after the game on Wednesday afternoon, he said: “It’s all absolutely unbelievable, it really is. With the armband, Nat handed it to me when he was walking off and I was going over to give it to Christie [Elliott].
“He smiled at me and said something like ‘just get it on’ as he waved me away, so I did. Obviously the game as going on at the time, so I didn’t think too much more of it, but it’s afterwards when people are talking about it possibly being a record that it sinks in.
“It’s the club I’ve supported all my life and now I’ve scored, and I’ve also been captain. It’s crazy really. I’m a supporter and I used to go to all of the home games then, when I joined the academy, I became an even bigger fan.
“I feel like I’ve watched Danny Grainger for a long time, then obviously when I was training with the first team at times last year he was still here, and he was great with me. I’ve always supported us and been around this club so it’s a real dream come true.”
As for the goal, it was one to take the breath away for many reasons with the youngster having taken his first touch of the ball inside his own half before stepping forward – at the same time as waving others away – to carry it all the way to the edge of the box before slotting it into the bottom corner.
The bulge of the net, with the versatile defender aged just 17 years and 138 days, meant he beat a 29-year record set by Rob Edwards on 8 September 1990 when he popped one away from the spot, on what was otherwise a day to forget in Maidstone, with 112 days to spare.
“There was space in front of me and we’re all encouraged to go with the ball if that happens,” he told us. “I knew I was in a good place to do that so I went for it. The further I got the more I thought that there was going to be a chance to shoot, so I went for that as well.
“It was an amazing feeling when I saw it go in. I had it in my mind where I wanted to put it and I’m just glad it was out of the keeper’s reach. I didn’t really know what to do with the celebration and I had no idea it was a record, or anything like that.
“Scoring a goal for the club is obviously something I’ve wanted to do, and there’s been a couple of half chances from set pieces, so hopefully there’ll be a few more. I just wish it had been a goal that had helped us to win because that’s as the most important thing for everybody on the night. Me scoring is good personally, but it’s not about that, it’s about winning games.”
In what has been a period of firsts for the teenager he also trotted out in an FA Cup first-team fixture in front of the TV cameras last Friday night when the lads recorded a 4-1 victory over Dulwich Hamlet.
“It was a really good experience which I really enjoyed,” he said. “It’s a dream for everyone to play in the FA Cup and it was important that we got the win. There were a few butterflies before the game, but I think that’s normal and I just got on with it.
“I got a few messages before the game to say everyone would be watching at home so there was a little bit more pressure, but that’s what it’s all about. Like I said, I was nervous, but if you want to be a footballer you’ve got to be able to deal with that type of thing.
“The senior lads were all really good and they just told me to play my own game and not treat it any differently to a normal match. That’s what I did.”
On the way this season is going for him, he told us: “I do have to pinch myself a little bit but I’m just enjoying every minute of it at the moment. I’ve just got to keep pushing on and make sure I keep playing well for the team.
“The coaching staff have told me to be confident because they say I’m playing for a reason. With the way the rest of the lads have been with me as well, it’s made me feel that I belong in the dressing room.
“They’ve all been really good with me and they’ve helped me settle in. I’m feeling happy and comfortable around the place and I just want to keep pushing on. I wouldn’t say I’m a confident lad but I know my ability and how I can play, so I’m just concentrating on that and trying to continue with pushing on.
“I can definitely feel myself improving all the time, I’ve been doing a lot of work with the gaffer and Gav [Skelton] in afternoons, which is really helping. We’re just doing basic defensive stuff, heading and clearing the ball, and it’s all working out for me. I just want to play as many games as I can now.”
Having admitted back in July that he would be happy with cup appearances, he’s found himself as part of the selection process for the starting eleven for every game, having made his first league start for the club in front of over 8,000 fans in October.
“At the start of the season I did think I might get a couple of appearances in the Leasing.com Trophy, and that would have been really good for me at my age, but to be in the first team for league games and pushing for a place every week is fantastic,” he said. “It’s helped my confidence a lot and I’ll just keep pushing.
“Adam [Collin] and Byron [Webster] have both been in the game a long time and they’ve both been giving me lots of advice through the games which has been really good for me.
“I’d like to think of myself as a ball playing centre half, I like to come out with the ball and show what I can do, but I’m a defender first and foremost so I need to make sure I win my headers and tackles, and thankfully that’s what I’ve been doing. It’s all a really good learning curve for me at a young age which will only help me improve.”
Every week brings news of more clubs who are reportedly sending scouts to track his progress – but have those reports affected him in any way?
“I don’t really take any notice of that sort of thing,” he insisted. “I just concentrate on playing my own game and try my best for the team to make sure we get the results. I do find it quite easy to keep my feet om the ground because I’m humble and I don’t get carried away.
“My family have all been great with me and they’ve been talking me through things and keeping my feet on the ground as well. I’ve played football all my life so I’m really enjoying playing at first team level, but I’m just focused on improving and making sure I’m ready to play when I get my chances.”
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