A Billingshurst footballer has been tipped to have a bright future by Brighton & Hove Albion boss Chris Hughton after making his debut for the club on Saturday.
James Tilley, 16, was a shock call-up to the first team squad for their Championship game at Middlesbrough and became one of the club’s youngest-ever players after coming off the bench for the first team.
The former Weald School pupil, who signed a professional contract with the Seagulls last month, came on in the dying seconds of the 0-0 draw in Albion’s final game of the season.
The young striker, who is 17 in June, replaced Jake Forster-Caskey, Albion’s actual youngest-ever player, who came on as a substitute back in 2010 aged 16 years and 13 days.
The forward described the feeling of making his debut as ‘unreal’ and that under Albion boss Chris Hughton he is learning from the best.
He tweeted: “What a moment! Unreal to make my debut for @OfficialBHAFC!
“Just want to say a big thank you to everyone who has supported me and helped me in making my debut for @OfficialBHAFC today.”
Hughton said: “I think I depended on the result. One thing I wanted to do here was get a result and I think if you bring him on earlier and you end up losing the game it’s not such a nice feeling for the lad, although he has made his debut and he is a good young player.
“I think what he will do is he will cherish the occasion, he would have enjoyed all of it, but he is a young player that we think hopefully will be a very bright prospect.”
Tilley, who also represented Horsham at under-12 and under-13 level before going on to play for Billingshurst, was rewarded for some impressive displays for the Seagulls’ development squad when he was brought on for the final seconds at the Riverside Stadium in front of over 33,000 fans.
Tilley has scored eight times for Albion’s under-18s this season, including winning goals against Norwich and Liverpool and a hat-trick in a 5-1 win at Tottenham.
He has plenty of local links with dad Kevin chairman at Sussex County League Division 3 side Billingshurst and eldest brother Nick having played for both Roffey and Hurst this season.