Millions of young boys dream about becoming a footballer for their boyhood team. But in reality, only a small handful of youth players make the professional grade, yet alone wear the strip of their favourite club.
However, Sid Nelson has defied those towering odds to live his childhood dream at Millwall.
Having joined the Lions at the age of eight, Nelson’s professional footballing career was thrown into the deep end as he made his first-team debut back in December against newly promoted Premier League outfit AFC Bournemouth.
The 19-year-old centre-half, who made 15 appearances in all competitions last season, then capped off a promising breakthrough campaign at The Den by being collecting the club’s Young Player of the Year Award and signing a new three-year deal.
The only downfall to Nelson’s unforgettable debut year was the heartbreaking fact that Millwall suffered relegation to League One for the first time since 2010.
However, with every bounce back bid, managers should look to strengthen and rebuild their squad from the back, and Millwall already have a ready made leader in the highly-rated defender Nelson.
Ahead of the club’s third tier curtain opener at Shrewsbury Town next weekend, Nelson spoke EXCLUSIVELY to Shoot about his Millwall upbringing, playing under Lions legend Neil Harris and the club’s preparations for an instant return to the Championship this season.
You have been at Millwall since you were just eight-years-old, what is it you love so much about the club?
“Well to start off with; I am a local lad and Millwall is my local team. So when I was a youngster, around four or five-years-old, I started to watch football and that’s the club I was going to watch. My family all support Millwall so it was just a blessing in disguise, being able to play for Millwall from such a young age really.”
You became captain of the Lions’ youth team before signing your first professional contract at The Den back in May 2014. With your family being diehard Millwall fans, you must have been delighted to sign for your boyhood club?
“It was what I was dreaming about when I was little. Obviously when I was 14 or 15-years-old, in the younger age group, we used to go and watch the games at The Den. So to get a contract with them and train with the first-team squad day in and day out is a dream come true.”
What are your earliest memories of supporting the club?
“I remember my first game, which was a cup match against Oxford [United] at The Den. I must have been about four or five-years-old, so that was probably my earliest memory. But all I can remember now is that Oxford were in a yellow kit!”
You made your first-team debut against newly promoted Premier League side Bournemouth in December. Can you recollect your emotions from that memorable day?
“Well firstly, I came into the dressing room and I was not expecting to start. I thought I was just filling in, not going to even be on the bench, just sort of be there and be in the squad. But the gaffer called me into the office and said, “How do you fancy playing today?” I was really nervous and I had to go to the toilet just to try and calm myself down a bit! Unfortunately we lost the game. But for myself, it was great. I felt I played alright in the game and managed to get the man of the match performance. I just relished it.”
Millwall suffered relegation from the second-tier of English football back in May following a five-year spell in the division. Do you think the club has got what it takes to seal an immediate return to the Championship this season?
“Yeah, definitely. The squad we have is very strong, but what we are trying to do this season is just go out and try and win every game. We haven’t put down a target. Obviously promotion is the key, of course it is. But for us, we are trying to win as many games of the season as we can and only think about the game in front of us.”
You kick-off the new League One campaign away to newly promoted Shrewsbury Town. How important is it to hit the ground running?
“Definitely. The first game of the season, we have got to show Shrewsbury [Town] and the rest of the league that we are up for it and that we will be contenders this year. And I think the squad that we have got at the moment is more than capable of doing that.”
You made 15 appearances in all competitions for the Lions during your breakthrough season last term. What are your personal goals ahead of the forthcoming 2015-16 campaign?
“It is just about trying to play as many games as possible. Representing the club is my aim really. Obviously you have got to try hard day in and day out in training, then it is up to the gaffer to pick me or not. But my aim is just to play as many games as possible really.”
You have worked closely with Millwall legend Neil Harris during your time with the club’s Under-21 squad and now the first-team. After being appointed permanent manager back in April, what is it like to be playing for someone I expect you looked up to as a supporter?
“When he first joined the Under-21 side as manager, I had to slap myself in the face a little bit! He is the sort of man that likes to show 100 per cent effort all the time. He has got everyone’s back and he has dug that into all of the lads at the moment. His type of playing will suit us.”
After releasing 18 players following your relegation; the club have brought in four new signings so far this summer: Tony Craig, Joe Martin, Jordan Archer and Mahlon Romeo. What have you made of their impact at the club so far this pre-season?
“First and foremost they are good lads. They have come in and especially with Joe Martin, he has a more experienced head and put an arm around all the young lads, so we learn a lot off of him. And also the other new signings, they have just fitted in really well and they all look really good at the moment.”
You capped a remarkable debut season earlier this summer by signing a new three-year deal with the club after being crowned Millwall’s Young Player of the Year. Again, what a way to end your first full season at senior level…
“Of course, but obviously relegation was a bit of a setback. But at the same time, for me in my first professional season, I conquered quite a lot in a short space of time. And yeah it was just fantastic for the manager to give me Young Player of the Year, it just shown that he believed in me so that was the main thing really. It goes back to the successful years we have had when the club brought through youth team players and they did really well then. So now, obviously the supporters can see what the gaffer is trying to do by bringing in the young players now because he wants energy in the team. Obviously you need some experienced players, but I think we have got a good mixture of lads this year and I think we can do really well.”
Favourite film: The Shawshank Redemption.
Favourite song: Sam Feldt – Show Me Love.
Most embarrassing moment: Couple of years ago, when I travelled with the first-team for the first time, I had this chicken thrown in my face.
Summarise yourself in three words: Committed, grounded and ambitious.
If you weren’t a footballer, what would you be: Ever since I was young, I always wanted to be in the army. That was something I always wanted to do, but my mum wouldn’t let me!