Mattie Pollock's start to life as a Cheltenham Town player has been nothing short of excellent.
Turning only 20 at the end of September, the central defender has continuously produced the type of mature performances you would expect to see from a seasoned professional.
Signed on a season-long loan from Premier League side Watford towards the end of August, his form so far in a Robins shirt highlights just why the Hornets swooped to sign him in the summer from Grimsby Town.
He has been sitting down to discuss his start to life at the Jonny-Rocks Stadium, his football upbringing, growing up with his former top flight professional father and current professional footballer brother, his time at Grimsby and his first experiences being part of the set-up at Watford.
How have you found your start to life at Cheltenham Town?
I've enjoyed it. It's a different challenge playing in a new league that I've not played in. It's my first loan but I've enjoyed it and the lads have been really welcoming. There's a good togetherness and atmosphere around the building and it's really helped me settle down. I've worked a lot with the players and staff and it's just getting used to how the gaffer and staff want us to play and getting used to it as quick as I can because I came into it a bit late at the start of the season. I feel like I've done alright and enjoyed it. Now I've settled in I want to kick on and have a good rest of the season.
Did the transfer happen quite quickly once Ben Tozer was sold as you were in quickly after that?
I knew about the interest before the old captain had left but we had to wait and see if he was to leave. My agent said there's a possibility, and I said straight away that if there was a possibility I want to come here. I knew a few of the lads from playing against them and I said I wanted to go there and park everything else that's out there - I want to play here. Lucky enough it materialised. It's a great club for me to come to and learn the trade another league higher and get as many games as I can, prove my worth in this league, and then hopefully see what can come for my future.
It could have been easy to go to Watford and settle in to being at a Premier League club - but you were happy to go out?
When I first heard about the interest from Watford when I spoke to them I said I'm not an under-23s player. I said if you're thinking about signing me for the under-23s it's not really what I'm after. They agreed and I feel like I've skipped that stage. It could have been easy for me to accept that I'm at a Premier League club and play under-23 football, but that's not what I want. I want to play as high as I can and as long as I can and I felt like this was a good stepping stone and to work with somebody like the gaffer here who has played in the Premier League. The team last year speaks for itself with the results that they got. Especially when we played against them I could see how they played and that made my decision for me. I wanted to come here and show people that I'm not just going to sit about and that I'm hungry and aggressive for more.
How have you found Watford having joined them for pre-season?
Watford is a great club and I have nothing but positive things to say. Since going in it's been absolutely amazing. I've learnt a lot of different things playing with some of the players that are there and seeing how it is at the very top and what people do and learning as much as you can. The quality of the training, the intensity, not being able to switch off, I feel that has been massive for me to prepare me as well for taking the next step. The staff and the players are really welcoming and I've loved every minute at Watford while I was there. But I knew when I signed I wanted to play and I wish I could play for Watford now but I knew it was going to be a journey and I was going to need to come out on loan to get to the point where I could play for Watford which I'll hopefully do in the future.
Has it been an eye opener seeing the Watford facilities they have? Ben Foster's YouTube videos show some of the facilities and hotels they are based in compared to perhaps what you had at Grimsby?
You've obviously seen it on Ben Foster's videos - it's crazy really. I had to go in there and just accept that I couldn't really be starstruck - I'm there to do a job and to play football. I've had to adapt to it and get used to it which wasn't bad at all. It's been good and it helps improve your game with the staff and the level of quality they can bring. The gym facilities speak for themselves and you see the players they've got and who are coming through.
You were in the Leeds United academy as a youngster and played for Polton Allstars under your dad. How would you describe your journey through youth football?
I was at Middlesbrough and then my brother went to Leeds so I followed him. I had a good couple of years but I was struggling a little bit - I went from small to big in one stage and it wasn't really working. I think both parties knew that so Leeds and me decided to end it. I went away and went on trial with a few clubs but I went to my dad's team, Polton, which is probably the biggest thing I did. I was a central midfielder then. I wasn't exactly great at football but I had to enjoy my football again which I needed to do. I enjoyed every second of it and I learnt a lot from playing under my dad. It put me in a good position because no matter how good I played I was probably the worst player on the pitch if you asked my dad! I needed that because it was a constant drive. I'm not embarassed saying it, I had friends who were at academies and I was jealous and it hurt me - that drove me on to try and become something. I needed the disappointment to drive me on and push me so I could achieve the things I have done so far. I signed for Grimsby from there.
Your dad has had a fantastic career in the game but he is involved at Billingham Synthonia and managed grassroots teams - is he someone who just loves football?
A hundred per cent. If you ask anybody in the north east about my dad he tries to help everyone. There are probably people he doesn't need to help but he takes it upon himself to help. He works hours that he shouldn't but that's all because he loves the game. Here now it's four-and-a-half hours from home and I don't think he's missed a game. Even when I was at Grimsby with covid he couldn't watch last year, but otherwise when he could I'd have him there, my mum, my granddad, and even growing up Leeds was a bit of a trek from Middlesbrough but they'd take me three or four times a week. The support I've had has been massive because I don't think today I'd be here if I didn't have the advice off my dad, my granddad, my mum and everyone in my family - my brother as well. They've lived the experience and passed it down to me. Last year was tough and I needed that helping hand. I still ring my dad everyday and although I haven't seen him for a week I still need to work on stuff he hasn't seen!
Your dad's career was impressive whether it was playing for Manchester City, Crystal Palace, Osasuna or a few other teams. Did you see much of his career or spoken to him much about his career?
If you asked me I'd take that career. He worked hard for what he got and he can be proud of it. Football for me is my life and all I want to hear are stories about him. I was too young to watch him live but I've watched a lot of games back where I can. Hopefully I can have a career almost on that level, if not better, it would be nice to rub it in his face!
Your brother is playing his football at Hereford?
Ben has been a little bit unlucky with injuries. I personally think he'll bounce back because he's got the ability. He can be proud of what he has done and what he's achieved and I think that's the biggest thing - just being happy with what you've got and what you've done.
Was Grimsby a strange situation because there were clubs interested in you personally but at the same time the club fell out of the Football League?
I loved Grimsby and my time at Grimsby. The first year was great, the second year we got relegated so it was difficult. At the start of the season there was a little bit of interest but I spoke to the manager at the time and said I'm focused and want to play. I said I wasn't going to play for an under-23s or sit on the bench for somebody else, I wanted to play. Unfortunately we got relegated but on a personal note I played a few more games than I did the year before. I managed to get bought and scored a few goals so personally I wasn't proud or happy with what I had done but it could have been worse. As a team we fell short. There were problems on and off the pitch that needed dealing with, but no excuses we weren't good enough. It sounds bad to say but it's a learning curve - hopefully I won't have to ever go through that again but in one sense I'm happy I've gone through it at such a young age because I feel if it was to happen again I could bring a bit of experience and knowledge and try and help the lads.
Sometimes football clubs need negative things to happen to kick them back in the right direction. Grimby are doing well back in the National League with Paul Hurst back in charge with new owners - are you pleased to see that things are looking up for a club that has huge potential?
I wish nothing but success for Grimsby, it's a great club and the fans are immense - they deserve everything. Even the people in the club have been there for years. Dave Moore the physio, I don't know how many years he's been there, but he's outstayed everyone. There are some great players and lads there and they deserve success. The new owner I didn't get to speak to, but when I left he text me a nice message and we hadn't even met. He seems like a good man and you can only see with what he's done with the academy and the stadium - he's developed it all the time. With the situation last year I just played my fotball. Michael Jolley gave me my debut and I loved playing for him, I loved playing for Ian Holloway too. Paul Hurst I was a little bit unfortunate because I had a hernia injury so I didn't get to play that much under him. When I did we knew we were relegated so it was hard to enjoy it but I learnt a lot from him and Chris Doig. It wasn't a great time for us and that hindered our relationship in the sense that I'm a competitive person and I want to win. I learnt a lot from everyone and I can only be thankful for having the trust and playing me. Grimsby is a great club and I hope they go back up and push again because I think with the new owners the sky is the limit. It's got great potential and hopefully they can get to where the fans and the club deserve.