Having joined the club’s academy system at the age of 13, defender Charlie Barnes admitted this week that even though it can be considered as a cliché, making it through to the professional ranks with his first senior contract has been a dream come true.
Looking back at the day he was given the news, he told us: “It was surreal really because we didn’t really know what was happening, other than we’d all been told that we were going in for a meeting and that we had to bring our parents.
“It just so happened that my mum and dad were away at that time, so I had to wait another week after everybody else to find out how it had gone for me.
“That was nerve-wracking, as you can imagine, because by the time my meeting came I knew what it was going to be about. That added a few more nerves to the whole thing, and it did feel strange knowing that the other lads had already been given their news when I still wasn’t sure what was happening with me.
“Once we got in there and I heard that it was good news it was superb. I remember my head was spinning and I was telling myself that I had to listen, then I’d lose concentration again because I was so pleased, then I’d make myself zone back in again. I was all over the spot if I’m being honest because it was just such massive news.”
“I must have looked daft because I had a huge grin that I couldn’t get rid of that went from ear to ear,” he continued. “Sitting in the meeting, it was interesting because they went through a lot of learning points with me first, things where they felt I should be pushing on and improving, and I started to think that maybe it wasn’t the meeting where I was going to be given the news after all.
“It felt like it was more a case of them giving me an idea of how I could get there at some point in the future, but then I was told that I’d made it through and it was like a huge weight had been lifted off my shoulders. I’d been working for that moment since being a little boy and it was an amazing feeling.
“There was no way it was going to sink in, I couldn’t get my head round it. It was maybe two or three weeks afterwards that I realised that the pressure was off. The pressure now is from myself because I want to get back into work as soon as possible and try to earn a place in the team.”
From supporting the team on a Saturday afternoon – with Cumbrian lad Kyle Dempsey his hero – he admitted that the ‘dream come true’ bit is the fact that he now has the opportunity to do exactly what Dempsey did, and force his way into the reckoning.
“I was 13 when I came into the academy and I used to go to watch the games every Saturday,” he explained. “We tried to get to the away games as well and I always had the feeling when I was watching that I wanted to be part of it.
“It sounds daft but I wanted to be the next big thing – the next Kyle Dempsey – I wanted to break through and make the same sort of impact in front of fans who had grown up supporting the club like I did.
“It’s here for me now and everybody says it, but it genuinely is just the start of it. My parents have said for years that life is about little steps that you have to overcome, and I think the first one for me was getting the youth contract.
“The next one has just happened, with me getting the first team contract, and the next step has to be for me to do what I can to break into the first team. I know that to do that I need to prove myself by at least earning a spot on the bench.”
And having worked closely with the first team throughout last season, with a spot on the bench against Wolves a particular highlight, he said: “That was very exciting at the time, even though I didn’t manage to get on, but it was a great experience to be on the bench and to see how things were done.
“Obviously I’d been around reserve games, but that was another level for me. Walking into the dressing room and seeing my name on the back of a shirt was an unreal moment.
“It would be amazing for me to have that shirt on out on the pitch, but the biggest thing would be that I think my mam and dad and my family would be so proud. They’ve helped me so much over the years with all the support, and with the travelling we’ve had to do, so I know it would mean a lot to them to see me do that.
“And I know what it was like for me to watch Kyle and want to do what he’d done, so there’ll be kids out there thinking the same about me. If I can do well and have young lads thinking they want to be the next Charlie Barnes – that’s what it’s all about.”
Looking ahead to the challenge he’ll face next season, he commented: “I’ve tried to stay level-headed about it because we’ve been told about lads who have let it go to their heads, and that’s why you have to be realistic about the situation.
“It’s great to have the contract but it means nothing if I don’t really start to push for a place and regular appearances.
“My confidence is high because the manager has said that I’ve got a clean slate once we all get back together again. He’s shown already that if he thinks you’re good enough you’re involved. It’s a completely new challenge but it’s one I’m really looking forward to.”
“If there’s a shirt there to be earned I want to know that I’ve done enough to give the manager something to think about,” he added. “That’s not something I’m going to back away from because I know the only way to be picked is by doing the job to the best of my ability.
“Getting this contract won’t mean as much if I’m not going full steam ahead to get regular first team football. Another contract won’t just be given to me next year, I’ll have to earn it, and that starts now.
“Going into with the other lads who were given contracts is another big plus. We’re a great group of friends and we all push each other on, and we want each other to do well. Obviously we’re working hard for ourselves, that’s the way it has to be in football, but that doesn’t stop us from trying to do it together.
“We’ve known each other for about four or five years now, some longer, and if we hadn’t been so close all the way through I know the last few years would have been a lot harder. Going forward it’s good to know that we’ll have each other’s backs once we do get back to work.”
As for what type of player we can expect to see, he said: “I’m quite a defensive player and I do love playing at right back. That’s a position where you can get forward a bit more, but I can also play at centre half. I am quite vocal and aggressive and I like to cover a lot of ground.
“I like to win as many of my headers as possible, and I used to have a laugh with the lads about that because I’d say that I never lost any, but that’s the type of thing you need to keep working on and getting better at.
“One area I do want to improve is scoring goals with my head. I did win a lot of them, but I didn’t turn enough of that into hitting the net, which was a little bit disappointing.”
As for the last few months, we wondered how he’d coped with the test that has been the Covid-19 lockdown.
“It is quite hard to keep going when you’re on your own, particularly if you’re like me and you’re the type of person who likes to be in a group,” he said. “All you can do is find ways round it so that you do keep the work you do at a good level.
“My sister’s boyfriend has been brilliant, he’s a decent footballer who wants me to do well, and once restrictions started to lift he was out with me and helping with ball work, and stuff like that. That’s been superb and I can’t thank him enough.
“I’ve been playing a bit of golf recently, once the courses opened up again, and that’s helped me to have something else to think about away from waiting for news about next season. It’s a great way if I do feel myself getting bored, or anything like that, of giving me a lift and setting another type of challenge.
“To be honest, I just can’t wait to get back now. I wake up every morning hoping I’ve got a text that’s telling us when our start date is.
“Once we get that I’m sure that everyone will be in the building way before the time we’re told to report, simply because it’s been so long and it’s what we’re all waiting for.”