This summer, we're featuring some of the players who have appeared in our academy Young Gun section of the match day programme in 2020/21. Next, we have young right back, Brooke Norton-Cuffy.
Last season was crazy.
To go from playing under-16s football to making my debut for the under-23s in such a short period of time was just unbelievable, and I’m so grateful for the opportunities that have been handed to me. It’s a really exciting time in my life because this is what I’ve been training so many years for, and now I want to see what I can really achieve at this club.
I got my scholar in the summer of 2020 and I also went on pre-season tour with the under-18s as an under-16. I played alright by my own standards (I think I can do better), so I was hoping to get a chance with the under-18s at some stage last season, but I didn’t expect it to happen so fast! I’d been training really hard over the summer because in football you never quite know when an opportunity is going to present itself, so when Ken Gillard told me that I’d be making my debut for the under-18s, I was so happy.
I can’t lie, I was nervous at the start because it was my first ever academy Premier League game, but the coaches told me to stay calm, go out there and just play my usual game. I’ve obviously been playing in academy leagues for years now, but this is when it starts to become even more competitive and you really feel it in the game. Straight away I noticed that I couldn’t take as many touches as I normally can. You need to keep the ball moving fast and whenever you take more than two touches, you need to be ready for a challenge from any direction.
It was a really valuable experience, but less than three weeks later, I was given an even bigger opportunity. As a right back, I knew that Ryan Alebiosu and Daniel Oyegoke were ahead of me in the pecking order at the academy. They’re both very good players, but after they picked up injuries, I couldn’t help but start to wonder who’s going to fill those gaps for the under-18s and under-23s.
I was the natural fit in terms of position, but I only turned 16 in January and made my under-18s debut at the start of October! Back in the summer, I was hoping that I could train with the under-23s by the end of the season, but on the Wednesday before they faced Liverpool in the Premier League 2, Ken told me that I’d be training with the under-23s ahead of the game on Friday.
At first I thought it would just be a training session, so I thought ‘Alright, let’s just train hard, impress Steve Bould, and see what happens’. But on the Thursday, I heard that I might be starting against Liverpool. I couldn’t believe it!
Again, if I’m being completely honest, I was nervous before the game and even the night before! Liverpool are one of the best teams in the league too, but when I finally got out there, it felt like just another game – only quite a bit quicker. Hubert Graczyk also made his debut that day and we kind of worked together to calm our nerves. We were just talking back and forth and because he’s a good mate of mine it took my mind away from the game. We were both in the same boat and I think that really helped.
From a personal side of things, I was happy with how I performed and dealt with the physicality of PL2 football, but I didn’t drop deep quick enough to receive the ball. We looked at it in the week and noticed that I need to open my body up so that I can play forward quicker. At under-18 level, I could often get away with that because I’m physically stronger and quicker than a lot of players, but when I’m with the under-23s, I’m playing against men and they’ll punish you for the smallest mistake. I think I corrected that in our 6-0 win over Blackburn.
I can’t thank all the staff at the academy enough for the opportunities that they've given me and now I want to repay that faith by continuing to perform on the pitch – whether that’s with the under-18s or under-23s. It’s a nice feeling knowing that you’re trusted to make the step up, and now I’m hungry for more.
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