Teenage midfielder Dylan Moonan has reached the end of his first year as a ‘scholar’ in the Clarets’ Academy.
Moonan has therefore been a full-time footballer with Burnley – combined with his in-house academic studies – for approaching 12 months.
The central midfielder has been a regular in the Clarets’ U18 squad this season and helped Tony Philliskirk’s side reach the quarter-finals of the FA Youth Cup, scoring in both the fourth and fifth-rounds wins over Mansfield Town and West Bromwich Albion.
Going into my scholarship (last summer) it was all very new and I was excited for the next big step in my journey. In the beginning we had a signing day at the club, where we had our photos taken and we met our new house parents for the first time.
Living away from home with older lads felt like a very big change at first. You can feel a bit uneasy even getting food from the fridge, but I quickly settled in with a great houseparent and started to enjoy myself in and out of the club.
The start of pre-season was as I expected with all the hard and physical work involved, however it was good to have a fresh start and be in a much more professional environment in an U18 team.
You quickly realise that this is now your official job, working from 8am-5pm like most people, but it is like a dream come true to get paid playing football. The programme is much different to what I was used to; the days are long, and you are at the training ground for most of your day which can really take it out of you.
I had a week or so of pre-season training in July and it came to the Friday of my school leavers’ do. I had to rush back after a tiring day at the club and get dressed into my suit to meet up with my school mates. It was a typical year 11 leavers do and my last chance to catch up with everyone before going off in a different direction. It was a good feeling to hear people wishing me luck, knowing that I would not see them much at all.
Later in July, we travelled to Prague to play in the CEE Cup. The experience was great and gave us all a chance to bond and play against some older, foreign players from teams such as SE Palmeiras and Besiktas JK. We struggled to match the physicality of the teams, especially being a new, younger side and the heat was unbearable too.
The games were live streamed on Youtube and so we hoped we could perform in front of the cameras but unfortunately for me I pulled up with a calf injury which put me out for the rest of the tournament. This was devastating for me and my family who had travelled out to watch. From my past injury though, I knew now how to handle it emotionally and I bounced back pretty quick and was in training shortly after. I still tried to enjoy myself on the trip though, knowing that this was my only chance to go away in summer due to football commitments.
I felt like I trained well in pre-season and was looking forward to the new season. But the first few games passed, and I only managed to get a few minutes in one game where I was needed to come on at centre forward – never played this position before! Some games I travelled quite far with the squad to get told the night before the game that I wasn’t going to make up the bench.
To give me some game time, I got one half of football playing for the U16s. Although I would rather play than sit on a bench, it was all very frustrating and knocked my confidence quite a bit. I know it was upsetting for my parents too. I didn’t want to start asking questions or start complaining yet as I wanted to prove myself as a player and stay patient for my chance.
A couple U17 games came up and I was looking forward to playing in centre midfield, which I had recently switched back into, and get a full game under my belt. I still didn’t get my chance but played right midfield instead. This all started to wind me up and I couldn’t work out what I needed to do; throughout my whole journey through the academy I had always excelled.
This period was a big low for me and hard to take when you are surrounded by teammates that are buzzing and playing in the league. I know this happens all the time in the professional game and I can understand how mentally challenging football can be.
I had a tough start and stayed true to myself during this spell and although I had a few sulks I just tried to motivate myself and focus on my own improvement. It’s important to have close relationships in times like these and it helped chatting to my mum, dad and girlfriend just to get things off my chest. With injuries in the squad and players moving to the 23s, I eventually got my chance to play regularly in the league and regained my confidence. The team managed to find some form and we found ourselves at the top of the league with Wigan and Sheffield United.
One funny moment in the season was when some of us took part in a special chip in challenge, where we represented different Burnley fans in the Clarets Foundation lottery. Luckily enough I scooped the ball into the tube and won £12,000 for Mr H Lumley which we all celebrated like we had won the World Cup.
Alongside the football, I was attending college on a Monday morning and all-day Wednesday. Before my scholarship had started, my mum was insisting I needed to take extra qualifications because I was very good academically. We had many discussions with Jack Higgins (Head of Education at Burnley FC) and he helped me come to the decision to study a maths A level. I was a bit apprehensive being the only one in my age group taking it and knowing I would have a bigger workload on top of all the football.
However, I know it was important to make sure I keep as many doors open as possible which allows me to go down more than one pathway. One day Jack told the group about another qualification that was available to us, which was to take a SATs exam, so that we have the possibility of getting an American scholarship offer.
I jumped at the chance despite having to give up more time to do extra English and maths lessons after the training days. Jack arranged for me, Corey and Harry to travel up to Harrogate on a “free” Saturday to sit the exam.
I hope I don’t have to use this option as I want to aim as high as possible at Burnley but again, it opens different doors for me. I ended up getting a decent score which has given me enough points to get in many Universities across America. I think for any young footballer out there, it is important to gain as many qualifications as possible.
One of the highlights of our shortened season was our FA Youth Cup run which started with a solid 5-0 win in a tie against Curzon Ashton. We then went to Mansfield in the round of thirty-two where I managed to score in a 3-0 victory which was a great feeling. This booked us a spot in the last sixteen against West Brom which we knew was going to be one of the most difficult games of the season.
In the changing rooms the atmosphere was strange, with the lads being well up for the game but feeling the nerves at the same time. The first half could have gone either way and I was in a good battle in midfield against a tough opponent. At half time we were happy that the game was goalless and had a huge belief we could do the job on them in the second half.
It was coming up to the crucial last 10 minutes of the game and we were awarded a corner after a decent half chance. I don’t know if it was gut feeling or real determination that I was going to score but the ball arrived to me at the near post. I got good contact with the flick on, with my foot, which sent it into the back of the net. The feeling was unreal, and I ran off sliding to the corner flag to celebrate with the fans – there was nobody in that corner though…
We got a real late second from Corey Brennan that secured the win and put us through to the quarter-final. All the lads were celebrating in the changing room and that feeling will be with me forever.
We then went to Manchester City in the quarter final at their academy stadium. We had done our preparation for the game and thought we had a great chance against one of the best clubs in the country. On the night City were first class and we couldn’t properly execute our game plan. I ran all night and tried my best to keep the midfield at bay but unfortunately, we lost 1-0. It was gutting and I was in a real bad mood but on a positive note I was looking forward to seeing what we could do next year.
A few months back I made my debut for the U23s against Crystal Palace which was a real high considering I had such a tough start to the season. At this time, a lot of the U23s had gone out on loan which made space for some of us U18s. I was due to be involved in some other fixtures but the storms hit and my chance was washed away. When the bad weather finally blew over, the games were back on and I couldn’t wait to play. To my disappointment I was named on the bench and didn’t come on at all, which shows how unpredictable and competitive football is.
This brings me up to the time of the pandemic and hence the reason I have spent this time to reflect on my scholarship so far. It is weird being back at home but I’m still in touch with the college, coaches and sports science staff (Adam Yates) who are all keeping me busy with training plans, college work and blogs…