Mason Mount has been recalling past visits to Old Trafford as a fan and a player as he looks ahead to the season opener against Manchester United today.
The midfielder has impressed both those in the dugout and those in the stands during his first pre-season as a Chelsea player, scoring three goals and staking a strong place for a starting spot in Frank Lampard’s first competitive game in charge.
He makes the trip to the north-west with his team-mates vying with Ross Barkley for the advanced central midfield berth in Lampard’s expected 4-2-3-1, though this will not be the first time the 20-year-old has ventured up the M6 for a footballing day out at Old Trafford.
Back in January 2008, as a football-mad nine-year-old recently signed to the Chelsea Academy, Mount made the trip with his father to watch his boyhood club Portsmouth take on United in the Premier League. So many sights and sounds captured his imagination that day but it was the image of a Portuguese winger thundering a free-kick into the top corner that has endured as his lasting memory.
‘It was the first time I’d ever been to Old Trafford but there were good and bad memories for me,’ Mount told the official Chelsea website. ‘I went as a Portsmouth fan and we lost the game.
‘I remember watching Cristiano Ronaldo and he scored this unbelievable free-kick – it was one of the best goals I’ve ever seen live. It was great for me to watch him as one of the best players in the world and that really motivated me as a young boy.
‘I was about seven or eight and I remember going to training the next couple of days and trying to recreate the free-kick. I was only young so I couldn’t really kick it that far but when you watch something like that then you want to add it into your own game. It motivates you to practise and try to replicate it in a game situation.’
Old Trafford can be an intimidating place for a first-time visitor, even more so when you’re still at junior school, and Mount remembers his experience as an away supporter as being particularly memorable. It is football poetry that, 11 years on, that same away end could be singing his name and cheering him on this afternoon.
‘The away fans are right at the top in the corner so you’re quite high up and you’re just looking around at so many people there,’ he continued. ‘It’s a stadium with a lot of history so it was a good moment for me to go there and watch a game.’
Mount was back at Old Trafford last season, this time as a professional footballer on loan from Chelsea to Derby County. The Rams produced an electrifying display in the League Cup, denied a win in 90 minutes but composed enough to dump out the Reds with a flawless penalty shoot-out.
‘I’ve got some unbelievable memories from that day and that game,’ the youngster recalled. ‘It was early in the season and we went there as the underdogs but I felt like we had more freedom and less pressure.
‘We played so well and should have won in normal time but they equalised really late on. We had to show character in the penalty shoot-out but we showed our quality and it was really the game that kicked us on to do well in the cup and the league.’
Mount stepped up first in front of the Stretford End, still a teenager but displaying all the confidence and characteristics of a seasoned professional as he buried his spot-kick past Lee Grant.
‘I didn’t feel pressure or look at the crowd, it was just me taking a penalty against a keeper,’ he explained. ‘I’ve always liked to go first from a young age because my dad told me to set the good example and hopefully give your team-mates confidence. I knew where I wanted to put it in my head, went for the top corner and it went in!’
Mason’s journey through our Academy ranks has been steady but sure. A gifted player growing up, he was able to combine those technical skills with a humble and hard-working character. He is popular among team-mates and staff, while his family background has ensured his feet remain firmly on the ground.
However, it was a family meeting called by his father Tony that prompted discussions over his Chelsea future at the age of 15. There were doubts raised about whether Stamford Bridge was the best place for him to continue the next phase of his development, though the teenage Mount was adamant he was staying to fight for his opportunity.
‘It was the start of my Under-16 season and there were other options available but I was always so focused to play for Chelsea,’ he said. ‘It’s always been my club so I didn’t want to go anywhere else.
‘My goal has always been to make it into the first team. I was so headstrong to work as hard as I could to make that happen and prove those people who say young players don’t make it at Chelsea are wrong.’
— Mason Mount
He has certainly made his point throughout a promising pre-season campaign and now looks set to feature in competitive action for the Blues for the first time. A Chelsea debut this weekend, at the ground he visited all those years ago harbouring dreams of making it to the top, would be particularly special.
‘It’s a crazy week for us and a good introduction for me into the Premier League and the Super Cup, with two massive teams that we’re going to be competing against,’ Mount reflected on the week ahead. ‘It’s very exciting, I’m at my club and we’re all working so hard to win these first games.
‘We’ve been working hard for the last four or five weeks to get to this moment and start off right. Training has been tough and we’ve been getting closer as a group so we’re ready and hopefully we can get a win.’