Teenager Tyler Hatton is an example to youngsters at his hometown club after completing his journey into Maidstone United’s first team.
The midfielder has played for every age group since joining the club’s Pebbles programme as a four-year-old.
And on Saturday the second-year academy scholar made his senior debut as a late substitute in Maidstone’s 4-1 FA Cup Second Qualifying Round win at Steyning Town.
It was a special moment for the 17-year-old, a former Stones mascot, after making George Elokobi’s bench several times this season.
“As a young boy I’ve always played for Maidstone, so I’ve always looked up to the first team,” said Hatton.
“When I got my chance on Saturday, I took it as well as I could.
“I tried to play how I play and keep everything simple.
“I was very proud to make my debut.
“It came as a bit of a shock because it was the FA Cup and I thought maybe I wouldn’t get to go on.
“But I persevered through pre-season and finally my shot came around.
“The gaffer just said to go on and keep it simple and do what you do and I think I did all right.”
Supporters up and down the country love to see a local lad make it through to the first team.
Maidstone have a few of those in their ranks at the moment, with Bivesh Gurung, Perri Iandolo, Riley Court and Harley Earle all part of Elokobi’s National League South squad.
To represent every age group en route is a great achievement for Hatton, who on Tuesday night helped the club’s youngsters to a 5-1 FA Youth Cup win over Dartford.
“I’ve lived in Maidstone pretty much my whole life,” he said.
“It’s always been my local club and I’ve always aspired to be in the first team and the whole town know me.
“I started with the Pebbles at four or five and never left.
“I’ve played for literally every age group and now I’m able to be in and around the first team, which I’m over the moon about. The dream is to play at the Gallagher in front of all the fans.
“I’ve always supported Maidstone. When Jay Saunders was the manager, I used to be a little mascot.
“I looked up to Alex Flisher and another good little player was Alfie Pavey.”
While the ambition was always there to reach Maidstone’s first team, it became a realistic aim as Hatton got into his mid-teens.
Elokobi involved him in pre-season and it’s been a big learning curve working with established pros.
“As I got further into football and loved it more and more, it probably got more serious around the under-15/under-16s and I’ve been trying to chip away and make my way to the first team,” said Hatton.
“I think attitude and perseverance are key, and the coaches who make you a better player.
“Training with the first team is a massive step up.
“The intensity and the quality of the sessions is a lot better and you just see the difference between first-team football and youth football.
“There’s a massive gap and training with them gives you a lot of experience which you can use in a game.”
Maidstone academy boss Billy Jones believes Hatton has a bright future.
“He’s capable of being in and around the first team as much as he wants to be,” said Jones.
“He’s a good kid, he knows the game and he always wants to learn and improve.
“He’s got a good head on his shoulders, he knows the club inside-out and it’s pleasing when you get these boys coming through who love the club and want to play for it.
“It’s massive for us in terms of moving forward, getting boys into the youth teams and the academy who want to progress and make themselves better.
“If we get as many as we can into the first team, it saves the first-team boss and the scouts having to look for players because they’re already coming through.
“It was nice to see Tyler come on and you’ve still got Perri, Riley, Bivesh and Harley, all these good players who have been at the club a long time.”