It’s been a whirlwind few months for the now 18-year-old Lewi Burnside, starting off with the Lichfield City under 21 side before breaking into the first team and being given multiple man of the match awards along the way, the only way is up for the exciting midfielder. So, I thought what better way to bring him back down to earth than with a 10-minute interview with myself.
The youngster breezes past me before realising I’m walking in the opposite direction to him, before we eventually depart on a 75-minute trip to Stourport, thanks to Darren Leaver’s brother who is endearingly nicknamed ‘pants’, I never found out why. After the midfielder converted to right-back had yet another man of the match performance against Stourport Swifts, my decision to delay the interview until after the game proved to be even more fruitful.
As all the players, directors, officials and journalist (singular because I think I was the only one present) gather in the clubhouse after the victory, I signal to the youngster to see if he is ready, and we depart. We sit in a quiet area near the stadium as the sun is setting and I tediously take out my Dictaphone and we begin.
“I thought everyone worked really hard today, I think it’s the best performance as a collective since I’ve come into the side,” Burnside says with a grin on his face. “For me personally coming into the team, in a new position I think it was a good change for me, I feel like today and Wednesday (friendly against Rushall Olympics) I have done the gaffer proud.”
The youngster who was drafted in wasn’t expected to break into the first team setup but hasn’t looked back, with fantastic back-to-back performances. Firstly against Walsall Wood in horrible conditions and then against Leek Town, a side a division above Ivor Green’s men.
“There’s no pressure on me really, I’m just enjoying myself and doing what I can and to show people what I can do,” he says. Ahead of Tuesday’s quarter-final in the Walsall Senior Cup against Chasetown, Burnside thinks the pressure is on Tuesday’s opponents and not City.
“Of course, I want to bring some silverware back,” he says. “It will be a tough game against Chasetown they’re in a higher league than us obviously and are flying at the moment. The pressure isn’t on us it’s on them to perform.
“We’ve got nothing to lose, we can go there and prove that we can beat them again!” Lichfield City dismantled Chasetown in the Staffordshire Senior Cup before the turn of the year in a 3-0 win at the Trade Tyre Community Stadium.
Burnside has had many hurdles he has had to overcome in the early years of his career, one of them was being a part of Aston Villa’s academy side.
“It was very intense,” Burnside revealed. “There was always a ridiculous amount of pressure on you, there is obviously less pressure on you at this level. At Villa you get fantastic experience, being coached by top professionals and training with top players, training three times a week, then playing a game on Saturday, I’ve been doing that ever since I was six, it’s all I’ve ever known really.”
The then 15-year-old received news that many teenagers do receive at that age, Burnside was to be released from Aston Villa’s academy.
“When I was released, they (Aston Villa) suggested a few clubs for me to try,” Burnside revealed. “I went on trial at one club, but I got injured three weeks into the trial, before the injury I was doing really well but with the injury, they said they didn’t want to commit to anything, so they let me go.
“My dad helped me out quite a lot at that stage, I wasn’t very confident, but he helped me a lot. He set up a team in the MJPL (Midland Junior Premier League), I went to Darren Middleton at the academy, and I went back for another trial before eventually breaking into the under 21 side, which of course led me to here.”
The youngster was keen to emphasise just how important his father and his mother have been for his fledgling career so far.
“My dad has been massively important, not just him but my mum too,” he insists. “They’ve both devoted a massive chunk of their lives to football and helping me. He (his dad) was a massive reason that I started at Lichfield, when I was 6 he was the manager, when I got released from Villa he created a team just for me to try and get my confidence back. He will never tell me I’m the best player or go over the top, he gives me tips and pointers which helps hugely.”
The mentality of the midfielder is clear to see and when I put the question to him about whether the rejection at Aston Villa helped him, he gave a strong reply: “I just want to prove people wrong, that’s what motivates me.”
Ivor Green and Wayne Chapman have been the driving forces behind the youngster’s sharp development curve and it’s clear to see how much Burnside is grateful to them both.
“Ivor and Wayne are the reason I’m playing men’s football,” he said. “They’re the ones who brought me into it, I want to repay their faith any way I can and work as hard as I can for this football club. Sometimes the pressure can get to a younger player, obviously not as much at this level but there’s still pressure, when I have Ivor in my ear telling me to play my game and enjoy my football, it helps me a lot.”
As the youngest member of the first-team squad during today’s game against the Swifts, the inevitable question arose about who he looks up to in the squad.
“Joe Haines,” he admits to me with a wry smile on his face. “We have a bit of banter, obviously Kyle Patterson is another one, he’s been there and done it really, Dan Lomas as well, all the experienced ones really. Max Dixon, has helped me a lot as well, he’s slightly older than me but I knew him during my days at Villa, so I’ve known him a long time.
“The lads give me as much confidence as I need really, they tell me to work hard and stay grounded, but they are also very complimentary so it’s a good mix I feel. They were the most welcoming bunch I’ve ever played with, there’s a fear when a new player comes in, some players might be looking over their shoulder worrying about losing a spot, but it’s not been like that here, they’ve all been so supportive.”
Burnside was unfortunate enough to have to go through his initiation song, an Alisha Keys song was the chosen punishment. “I didn’t want to do it all,” he admits whilst laughing. “I think I played well that day so that gave me the confidence to get up and do it.”
Puffing out of the cheeks follows the recording stopping on my Dictaphone and Burnside says: “That was quite good, I’ll do that again.” Which is yet another sign of the teenager’s growing confidence.
By Shaun Webbley