18-year-old midfielder Lewis Gard got a taste of first team action at the back end of last season.
Speaking to southendunited.co.uk two weeks before a return to pre-season, the youngster looks back on his substitute appearances at Oldham Athletic and Bradford City and explains how they came out of the blue, how he overcame a frustrating injury last season and talks about emulating his mates Dru Yearwood and Elvis Bwomono.
Since joining at the age of eight you gradually progressed through the age groups and into the first team, what has that journey been like for you?
It's tough because you don’t know if it’s ever going to happen. It happened really quickly for me because I came back from injury and then the gaffer pulled me over and said I would be in the squad. I was buzzing when it happened and I want that to carry on next season.
What injury did you have to overcome last season and how difficult was that to deal with?
It was a nerve in my hamstring that played up twice during last season. It was a tough because when I was over it towards the end of the season I was thinking would I get back to my full sharpness. One thing that did help was going out on loan because that got me fit, got me match sharp and really helped me a lot.
How did you find your experience out on loan at Aveley?
I went from playing twice to three times a month to about 10 games in one month, which is what I needed at that stage in my career. It’s playing against men as well which is a different test. All the games meant a lot because you’re involved in a competitive league with boys that are desperate to do well which was good.
Then coming back Southend and ending the season in the first team mix, that must have been a great feeling.
I wasn’t really expecting it, I was happy being in and around things but then once the gaffer called me over I was buzzing. It took a while for the ball to go out but once I got on I just enjoyed it.
And then you got another chance at Bradford as well…
Bradford was good, the size of the stadium and getting a good win again, so it was good to play there.
You must looked around at the boys who are your age and have taken that step into the first team like Dru Yearwood and Elvis Bwomono and take confidence from that?
Massively. I’ve been playing with Dru for ages, I can’t even remember how long it is, and then Elvis joined when we were U15s so that’s at least four years I’ve been playing with him. Seeing them two do very well and get a lot of minutes shows that you do get chances, and I want to do what they’ve done.
And we’re not far off pre-season, so have you enjoyed your break and are you raring to get back?
It’s been good. Towards the end of the season you’re looking forward to the break but now I’m missing it and I can’t wait to get back. I want to be back playing football every day so you do miss it. We’re back in a couple of weeks but I’ve been keeping fit over the off-season so I can kick on from where I left off straight away.