For youth scholar Jack Ellis it was a ‘dream come true’ type of ending to the season with the offer a professional contract complemented by his home debut, and 90 minutes at Bradford in front of a whopping crowd of over 18,000 people.
The 18-year-old caught the manager’s eye in a series of training sessions and reserve game appearances leading up to the closing stages of the campaign and his unflappable approach earned him the ultimate award, a call-up to the starting eleven.
“It’s been a crazy couple of days and weeks being around the first-team, but I’ve loved every moment of it,” he told us. “I’ve been at the club since I was nine or ten so to make my debut at Brunton Park in front of all of the fans was brilliant.
“I remember coming into the academy and it was when I used to come and watch the first team games after playing on Saturday mornings. To now be playing on the actual pitch is just crazy, it’s everything I’ve ever wanted.”
And as revealed by United boss Paul Simpson after the Stevenage game, a slightly different method of announcing the team had been employed, with the surprise nature of the selection very much to the fore.
“The way the gaffer told me I was playing was to just put my name up on the screen in the meeting we had before training session on the Friday,” he explained. “I was so shocked, I didn’t even realise straight away, to be honest.
“Usually I have a quick glance at the screen but I just presumed the other lads would be playing, so I didn’t really take it in. Then Simmo started saying congratulations to me, so I looked up and saw it.
“Loads of things started going through my mind about how it would feel playing in front of all the fans, but it was such a good feeling.
“I always said I wanted to play while I was still a scholar, so to do that was great. Especially in front of two big crowds.
“To play in the last home game of the season in front of everybody was unbelievable, then to play at Bradford in front of 18,000 was just crazy.”
As for the instructions he was given ahead of his debut, he commented: “When the gaffer spoke to me about what he wanted me to do in that Stevenage game he just told me to be myself and play my usual football, because that’s what I’m best at doing.
“He said that I didn’t need to change anything just because it was a bigger stage, and all the lads were great as well.
“Nobody really made a big deal of it, they all just played it down which I think helped me go out and play my normal football.”
“I’ve been on the bench in a couple of cup games, but it’s a pretty mad feeling during the warm-up to know you’re about to come out and actually play,” he added. “When I was on the bench for the FA Cup or the Papa John’s games you don’t really think there’s a chance of coming on.
“When you know you’re starting it’s so different, you’re worrying about every touch, but once I got out there I was ok.”
Add that home and away debut combo to the contract offer, and you start to get a sense of the whirlwind of sensations he must have been feeling, particularly having seen Gabriel Breeze, Scott Simons and Sam Fishburn put pen-to-paper earlier in the season.
“When Gabe, Sam and Scott got their deals before me there’s obviously a little bit of jealousy, but you’ve just got to stay patient,” he admitted. “When the gaffer came in I knew that he’d been someone who had brought young players through in the past, so I also knew there was an opportunity for me to join in with the first team and show him what I can do.
“Thankfully I did that and when I got my contract offer I couldn’t believe it really. They asked my mum to come in and we sat down, and they said they wanted to offer me a deal, and I was delighted.
“It was a big weight off my shoulders because instead of focusing on trying to get a contract it meant I could go into training every day and concentrate on improving as a player. It was a great day.
“My parents were really chuffed. They’ve been great, they’ve always encouraged me to go to training, even when it was tough getting there after school and things like that.
“I was going to Carlisle four times a week, which is an hour up the road from Kendal, but they always made sure I was there. I’ve got a lot to thank them for, and my little sister because she’s had to travel all over the place with us as well.”
So, nerves aside, what does he recall from that debut outing against Boro?
“I was pleased with the Stevenage game overall,” he told us. “I just didn’t want to mess up. I almost wanted it to be over as soon as possible so I could get through it and play as well as I could.
“I wanted to settle into the game quickly because the last thing I wanted to do was make a mistake. For the first ten minutes I just wanted to play easy passes and keep the ball.
“I had Corey [Whelan] next to me and Mark [Howard] in goal, so they were talking to me all of the time, and Omari [Patrick] spoke to me before the game and at half-time telling me to just keep calm and play my normal football.
“They really helped me through it. I think I’ve been quite lucky with the pros we’ve got. Morgan [Feeney] is still young but he’s really good, and he’s been a good captain for us when Callum hasn’t played.
“Mark has got loads of experience so he talked me all the way through the first game, and Corey has been good with me all season.
“At the moment I feel like I’m the most confident I’ve ever been on the ball and in my game. We’ll see how it goes next year, if someone told me we had a game or training session tomorrow I would 100% be there, I just want to play.
“I’ll go away and have a break to make sure I’m ready to fight in pre-season. I’ve had a taste of it now in these two games and I just want more.
“It’s a bit of a shame the season has finished really because I wish I could play a few more games. It’s time to chill out for a couple of weeks then come back and show the manager that I’m ready and I want to play for this club.”
“I’m not too bothered about focusing on one position now,” he concluded. “I think that will come into play later down the line, where I really settle down into one position as I get older.
“Right now, as long as I’m playing I really don’t mind. I loved playing right wing back in the two games for the first team, but centre half is where I’ve played for quite a while.
“I’m just happy to do anything at the moment.”
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