Christmas has most certainly come early for Dan Potts.
After captaining West Ham United’s Under-18s to a fine 3-2 FA Youth Cup third-round win at Wolverhampton Wanderers, the 17-year-old signed his first professional contract earlier this week. To complete a memorable hat-trick, Potts was drafted in for an injured Abdoulaye Faye five minutes before kick-off to make his senior debut in Saturday’s 1-0 npower Championship victory over Barnsley.
For a player who won his battle with leukaemia less than two years ago, Potts’ recent achievements have been something truly special. Speaking to West Ham TV, after being congratuled in the tunnel by Hammers fan Russell Brand, the new No48 could not contain a wide grin.
“To make my debut and to come off the pitch with a win, three points and a clean sheet as a defender, it really was a dream day and a dream debut,” he said. “Credit to the lads because it was a great effort and great three points.
“The team is normally announced the day before a game and it’s good to know whether you are starting, but I think you should always prepare for a game as if you are starting. I knew Abdy Faye had a slight injury and had a fitness test but I got told he passed it and I was on the bench. Five minutes before kick-off I got told I was starting!
“In football, anything can happen as was shown on Saturday and you’ve just got to prepare for that and know you can be chucked into the equation at any time. Saturday was proof of it.”
Potts’ debut was no easy ride, coming against a Barnsley attack which had netted 13 goals in its previous five matches. However, the teenager responded to the challenge of facing Craig Davies, Ricardo Vaz Te, Nile Ranger and Jacob Butterfield with a display that belied his tender years.
“At left-back I was expecting to be playing against their right winger, but three or four of them came over to my side and no matter who it is, age doesn’t come into it and you’ve got to be able to stand up one-v-one and put a shift in for the team because that’s your job. I think I did that.”
Having overcome so much at such a young age, Potts is unsurprisingly a positive person. He is hoping his first-team debut will finally close the book on a past that saw him miss 18 months of football while he fought and recovered from his illness.
“It’s special for me and my family because it was a hard time in my life. After Saturday, I can put that well and truly to the back of my mind and in the past.
“Back then, this was never in my thoughts. I was concerned about getting fully fit, getting back to proper health and football came second. It’s surreal but it’s really pleasing.”
A popular figure at Chadwell Heath, Potts has already been earmarked for a bright future by Academy Director Tony Carr, manager Sam Allardyce and captain Kevin Nolan. One other high-profile supporter is his father Steve, the Hammers great who dashed from his current role as the club’s Under-16s coach to witness his son’s big day.
“My Dad has been there and done it and had a great career and I can only dream of having the same career as he has. He’s a great person to look up to. When I need him I can talk to him and he offers me great advice. He’s a great person to have and I’m pleased I’ve got him really.
“The gaffer and the players have been so supportive and on Saturday it showed throughout the 90 minutes and after the game. They gave me great encouragement and there is great team spirit among the boys and that’s why we’re at the top of the table.”