Saturday 17 August 2019

Bettystown boy takes Chelsea game by storm

Marcus Cavaroli

Frank Lampard was centre of attention when he took charge of Chelsea for the first time in last week's friendly against Bohemians - but by the end of the game a 14-year-old from Bettystown had stolen his thunder!

It was a sensation just to see Colaiste na hInse pupil Evan Ferguson coming on as a 66th-minute substitute against the English Premier League giants, and the strapping forward wasn't going to let this opportunity pass him by.

After a superb weaving run he flashed a shot just wide of the Chelsea goal, and then in the 89th minute it was Evan's clever step-over that allowed teammate Eric Molloy to fire home the Bohemians equaliser in the 1-1 draw.

Naturally, the Republic of Ireland Under-16 international's performance against a Chelsea back four featuring senior internationals Davide Zappacosta and Kurt Zuma was widely acclaimed, not least by proud dad Barry - an FAI development officer in Meath - mum Sarah and sister Ellie who were all there to support him.

Dad, of course, was himself a top League of Ireland footballer in his day, winning three trophies with Longford Town and also turning out for Shamrock Rovers, Bohemians and Sporting Fingal. But even he didn't foresee last Wednesday's remarkable events in front of a packed house at Dalymount Park.

'Evan would have trained with the first-team squad probably a week or 10 days before, so that was an experience in itself, and then he was asked to be involved in the game which was amazing,' Barry recalled, speaking to the Drogheda Independent.

'We were in shock a little bit as a family. He is quite tall and broad and doesn't look 14 sometimes, but it's a young age to be involved and if he'd come on for two minutes at the end we would have been delighted.

'So it was great for him to get nearly half an hour and he did really well. He didn't seem to be nervous, which could not be said for his family!'

Evan was due to travel to Brighton & Hove Albion for trials over the weekend and Liverpool are also reported to be showing interest, and his parents are trying to keep his feet on the ground at this stage.

'It's very hard to protect anybody from Facebook and Twitter, but he's a good kid, very laid-back,' said Barry.

'It's hard to get anything out of teenagers, but he knows what he has to do if he wants to become a professional footballer. He's not getting carried away.

'It's a tough game if that is the road he wants to go down and you get nothing handed to you. You can't just turn up to play Chelsea - you have to turn up every week.

'Evan has got a long road ahead if he wants to be a professional and get to the level of the Bohemians and Chelsea players and he has to keep working hard and keep playing to that level. No one says 'you were great a year ago' and then give you a chance - he has to maintain it.'

In the meantime it's back to the bread and butter stuff with Bohemians Under-15s and Under-17s in the National League, and despite all the speculation there will be no big move across the water - at least until October of next year when Evan turns 16.

'Playing against Chelsea will improve Evan's career prospects,' Barry agreed, 'but elite sport can be cruel at times. Everybody is talking about you today, and then somebody else comes along.

'There's a lot of interest in him going on trials, but as far as signing for anyone is concerned the rules are there and he can't sign for anybody until he is 16.

'If there's interest from anyone they go through the club and the club contact us to say someone wants him on trial, and then we ask Evan if he wants to go.

'There's not that many opportunities outside of school holidays, so it's up to us to make the best of any opportunities that come up.'

Speaking of school, Barry's own experience tells him that it's wise for young footballers to get a good education even if big clubs come calling at a young age.

'I've been around myself and I've seen the good and bad in football - I had to retire from playing when I was 29. Fourteen-year-olds think they'll play football for ever and become millionaires, but even if they do they still have to have something to do afterwards.'

To say these are exciting times in the Ferguson household is a huge understatement as Evan's sister is about to embark on the next chapter in her own promising career.

Herself an Under-17 international, Ellie is off to the United States in two weeks' time as she takes up a soccer scholarship, studying sports psychology in Ohio.

Yet despite the siblings' outstanding talent, Barry insisted there's little talk about soccer around the Ferguson household in Bettystown.

'We don't really talk about anything to do with football,' he said.

'We give them a bit of stick, but it's all a bit of fun and we wouldn't be talking tactics or analysis around the dinner table!'

Drogheda Independent