CHARLIE Oatway has spoken of realising his dream after stepping up from non-league football to sign for Brighton & Hove Albion.
The 20-year-old attacking midfielder from Shoreham has been handed a one-year deal with Albion’s development squad after impressing in a three-week trial at the end of last season.
It was a trial he earned by catching the eye of Seagulls’ scouts playing for County League Division 2 side East Preston last season, where he netted 34 goals to help them lift the title.
Oatway, who was formerly a part of Brighton’s ground staff, has taken to training alongside the first-team stars this week and admits it is a strange feeling playing on the pitches he used to look after.
He said: “It’s always been a dream ever since I was a little boy, all I have wanted to do was play football.
“I was a groundsman before this happened and it killed me seeing them train every day, just having to watch.
“It’s just unbelievable, I still see all the ground staff and they are really happy for me, but can’t quite believe it either.
“It’s still sinking in, really, training now with the likes of Vicente and Wayne Bridge every day. I’ve just got to do my best and see what happens.
“All I can do is try my best and, hopefully, at the end of the year, I may have earned another contract.”
Charlie will be known as Oatway junior at the Albion, as he looks to follow in the footsteps of his father, former Brighton captain, also Charlie Oatway, who established himself as a firm favourite at the club, and is now first-team coach for manager Gus Poyet.
Oatway junior added: “I have always wanted to follow in his footsteps and that is why this has always been my dream.
“He has always let me do my own things and put no pressure on me. But where I am now he has been helpful since I have got my contract and told me how I need to improve and what I can do with my game.”
Oatway is currently training six days a week, all day, in an intensive pre-season schedule, which he has been doing since joining the club just under two weeks ago.
He underwent two trial games last year at Bournemouth and Gillingham and admitted after hearing nothing until recently, he thought his dream was over.
“He said: “It had been a couple of months and I’d heard nothing from anyone, so I’d given up. In a way, I suppose that made it even better – the shock of it.”
East Preston manager Dominic Di Paola hailed Oatway’s work ethic and said he was deserving of the opportunity in front of him: “As a club, we are over the moon for him and, as his manager, for the last year and a bit, I can say I was privileged to watch him grow, develop and improve as a player and come out of his shell a bit as a person.
“He is a lovely lad, very shy and quiet and without an ounce of ego about him and, having spent a lot of time with him, on and off the pitch, you’d have to say it couldn’t happen to a nicer kid.”
Oatway added: “I’d like to thank Dom and everyone at EP, they have been great. All the coaches, everyone there has supported me and really made me into a better player.”