Three years on and AFC Bournemouth defender Ben Greenwood is still pinching himself.
At the start of 2018/19, Greenwood was playing the likes of Tooting Bec, Eversley & California and Chessington & Hook United in Division One of the Combined Counties League.
He was turning out for Fleet Spurs, a club which competes at level ten and step six of the non-league pyramid, equivalent teams locally being Ringwood Town and Verwood Town.
Fast forward to the start of 2021/22 and Greenwood has just faced Champions League winners Chelsea, much to the delight of dad Phil, mum Ruth and brother Harry.
Greenwood, who is just a month into his first professional contract, told afcb.co.uk: “I know people say living the dream is a footballing cliché, but I really am!
“I haven’t played a competitive game for the first team but I’ve just signed my first pro contract and now I can say I’m a professional footballer. It’s something I’ve always wanted.
“I’m not going to rest on my laurels and know I’m on the bottom rung of a very long ladder. The jump up in three years has been intense but I think I’ve handled it quite well.
“There have been times when it’s been tough and there have been a few setbacks but I feel I’m mentally strong and have dealt with it all.
“I can’t lie, it was a special moment for me coming on against Chelsea. A couple of months ago, I was watching them win the Champions League and I’ve just played ten minutes against them!
“I found out that I would be playing the day before the game. I phoned my mum and dad and they dropped everything to come down with my brother to watch me. They were buzzing as much as me.
“I’ve had a taste and want more. I need to keep pushing myself every day and I need to keep learning. I need to keep working hard and see where it takes me.”
Greenwood netted three goals in seven games for Fleet Spurs, dividing his time with attending Pulse Premier Academy, a full-time education and sports development programme based in Frimley.
Discussing his rapid progression, he said: “Three years ago, I’d just finished playing for my dad’s team Rushmoor Saints and we won pretty much everything locally.
“I moved on to Fleet Spurs and played youth football there before getting picked for the first team which was a lot different in standard and style to what I was used to.
“I also went to Pulse Premier Academy so I was doing football full-time which helped with my fitness when I started going for trials. I was there for three or four months.
“I was called up to represent Surrey and England Schools and that was a great experience.
“I had an eight-week trial at Chelsea, a couple of weeks at Watford and also went to Arsenal. Then, I came here on trial here for a week.
“To be honest, it was a step up in intensity. Alan Connell really put me through my paces with the under-18s.
“I played against Yeovil on the Saturday and, unfortunately, picked up an injury. But I had showcased myself enough in the minutes I played that I was worthy of getting a scholarship and that’s when the journey started here.
“It’s a bit disheartening going on trial and not getting in. When my dad said Bournemouth wanted me in for a week, I said to myself if it didn’t come to anything, I wanted a break from trials.
“If I hadn’t been offered something here, I would have stayed at Fleet Spurs and seen out the season.
“After that, I would have looked to have played somewhere locally like Aldershot, Farnborough, Basingstoke or Slough. Aldershot are my local team and I was a season ticket holder there when I was growing up.
“My dad would have pushed me to play at that level if things hadn’t gone to plan here but, fortunately, they did. Since then, everything has happened so quickly!”
Greenwood, who has 13 GCSEs, was invited to attend the Cherries’ pre-season training camp in Marbella and discovered a link with Scott Parker’s management team while he was away.
He said: “Joe Flynn, my PE teacher at my old primary school, is good friends with Matt Wells, our new assistant head coach!
“In Marbella, we sat down after training one day and Matt said me ‘your old teacher has told me to look after you’. I asked him who it was and he said it was Joe. I couldn’t believe it!
“Joe moved to Dubai before I left school so I haven’t seen him for so long. It was like ‘wow, it’s such a small world!
“Marbella was a great experience for me personally. It was the first time I’d ever done something like that, especially to be with the first team as well.
“I’ve been with them since we came back and it has been a big confidence boost. I’ve loved every minute of my time here and, hopefully, the dream will continue.”
Click through the arrows above to see a selection of pictures of Greenwood from pre-season.