Third-time lucky at Albion sees Tilley make ‘heart-stopping’ debut

James Tilley comes on for his Brighton & Hove Albion debut
James Tilley comes on for his Brighton & Hove Albion debut

Brighton & Hove Albion’s youngest new prospect has revealed it’s third time lucky for him at the Championship club and spoken of the heart-stopping moment of his debut.

James Tilley, 16, from Billingshurst got a surprise call-up to the first team squad for their final game of the season at Middlesbrough at the start of the month.

Warming up was just a brilliant feeling, when you ran out all the fans are shouting your name from the crowd.

James Tilley

The striker was delighted and honoured just to be on the bench, but a nod from manager Chris Hughton to go on with seconds left was the stuff dreams are made of.

The former Weald School pupil was on the pitch for just seconds, but it has given the young forward, who has been playing for Albion’s under-18s and under-21s a taste of the big time.

He said: “It was unreal to be fair. I was so happy just to be travelling, to get on the bench and then to get on was unreal.

“My heart went when I went on. Obviously, I got told to go and warm-up and when I was called over to go on my heart went.

“I started off in the under-18s and I was finding it quite hard on the bench, but I got a chance and it went from there.

“I said to myself I wanted to start making appearances for the under-21s and see where things went. It did not go through my head that I would be called up to the first team.

“I was so happy to even be travelling and being around the squad. I would have liked a few more minutes on the pitch, but even sitting on the bench I was so happy.”

The former Billingshurst and Horsham Youth player penned a pro contract with the Seagulls last month after having previously trialed with them twice before.

And his persistence paid off thanks to the support of former Albion youth development officer Ted Streeter.

Tilley continued: “I am so thankful to everyone that has helped me, the training academy, my parents, everyone really.

“Billingshurst was my first club as my dad was manager and they were good years. I went on to Horsham as I wanted to play both Saturday and Sunday. Also on Monday nights I was with Ted Streeter. He was one of the people that never gave up on me.

“Two times I had trialed with Brighton and not got in. It was my third trial when I finally got in and a place.

“Ted just never gave up on me. He was coaching at Brighton and had another training academy, he has been the main man for me.”

The experience of playing in front of 33,000 has left the young talent hungry for more after that crowd eclipsed the few hundred he has played for with the development squad.

He added: “Nowhere near as many as that. In youth cup games we have had a few hundred, for the under-21s against Newcastle it was like that.

“33,000 is just ridiculous, it’s the highest by miles. Warming up was just a brilliant feeling, when you ran out all the fans are shouting your name from the crowd - you could get used to that, it’s what I want every week.

“In the beginning when I was told I was travelling, my heart skipped a beat. Being in the plane and everything, but once I got my initiation song over with I felt at home and that I was in my place.

“On the pitch I felt fine and it’s nice to get that first time over with, so if there is another time, it will feel even more normal.”

On the future, he added: “To be honest I am not really sure. I need to keep going and make sure I knuckle down and continue training and doing the things I am doing.”

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