Brighton & Hove Albion under-23 midfielder Max Sanders had a day to remember on Saturday, after being included in the first-team squad for the first time in the side’s Emirates FA Cup quarter-final tie against Manchester United.
The 19-year-old was named on the bench at Old Trafford, and the Horsham-born youngster was delighted to make the step up at one of the biggest stages in world football.
“I found out that I would be involved with the first team after training on the Thursday and Paul Trollope said, ‘you’re travelling tomorrow by the way.’ I was just buzzing when he told me that. He told me the squad list was going up at 1pm, but was pretty sure that I’d be travelling.
“It was the first time I had ever travelled with the first team for a game. It really hit me when I was at the ground, and it felt like a dream.
“When I went out onto the pitch, it was so surreal and there were so many fans there. I'd never had that experience before. All the lads were saying that it was a fantastic place to be involved with the team for the first time. It’s the biggest club in the world, so to go to a packed stadium with a lot of Brighton fans there too was unbelievable.”
Sanders revealed the support he had from his friends and family as news filtered through that he would be involved.
“My girlfriend, my parents, my grandad and my agent were all there at the game, and even though I didn’t get on, it was an amazing experience.
“I’ve had loads of messages from my team-mates in the under-23s saying, ‘well done, you deserve it,’ which has been really good. A lot of people that I’ve known from ages ago also messaged me, which was really nice.
“Now I want to try and keep playing well for the under-23s and keep the unbeaten run going for them. Hopefully I can get on the bench for the first team again and maybe make my debut.”
After getting a taste of the first-team environment, the midfielder is now eager to follow in the footsteps of other academy graduates like Lewis Dunk and Solly March, and sees them as ideal role models.
“If you look at both of them, they both broke through from the academy, and deservedly so.
“They’re both having good careers as well, so if I can get anywhere near that level, then it would be a dream. Hopefully I can reach that level, but I will need to keep working hard.”