In the next part of a new series introducing our latest intake of Academy scholars, the official Chelsea website talks to midfielder Henry Lawrence about his early football memories and his family of Chelsea supporters.
How did you first get into playing football?
I first started playing on the playground at school and then aged about six or seven it was a friend of my dad who helped me get into a local team in south-east London, where I grew up. I played in centre midfield and we trained every Tuesday, Thursday and then played on a Sunday.
So how were you eventually signed by Chelsea?
I played with my local team for two years and then got scouted by a couple of clubs, including Chelsea and Arsenal, so I trained in the development centre programme for a while. Both clubs offered to sign me at Under-9 but because I’m such a big Chelsea fan, it was an easy decision.
Where does following Chelsea come from?
I was always going to choose Chelsea because my family are massive fans and I would probably have been disowned if I signed for any other team. My mum, dad and grandad have always supported the club so I grew up with it in my family.
It was difficult sometimes because in the Academy we trained on a Saturday and played on a Sunday but I went to Stamford Bridge whenever I could with my brother to watch the likes of Didier Drogba, John Terry, Michael Essien and Joe Cole.
Do you have a fond footballing memory growing up that sticks in the mind?
I still played football for my school all the way up to Year 11 and I remember a schools final when I was about 15 – I scored in the last minute and we won 3-2. It was played at Selhurst Park and everyone went mad celebrating!
You’ve been training and playing for the club since the age of eight, which must have been quite some journey?
When you’re eight or nine, it’s a lot of hours to come into Cobham and train three times a week, then play on a Sunday. It hasn’t been an easy journey and I’ve had a few injuries along the way, with a particularly bad one coming in my Under-13 year. I went for a header in a game, landed badly and fractured my knee so I was out for about five months, which was really tough.
I started doing day-release when I was 12 and we would come in every Wednesday for training, then stay overnight and be in again on Thursday. It was a challenge to balance football and school but I got through it and did okay. People at school obviously knew I played for Chelsea because I only had Monday and Friday as full days at school but I didn’t make a big deal of it and only spoke about it if they asked.
It was a massive change coming in more often but I think that was the best change. You have more contact time to work on different parts of your game, including the physical side in the gym, which helped me as a player a lot.
Five of the current first-year scholars have been at Chelsea since the Under-9 season, including yourself, which must give you a unique bond?
It is special when you have the other boys come through the system with you and it’s good to see them progress as well because we’re all close friends. Sometimes it can be an advantage in tough games when you look around to see the boys around you and think 'we can do this together'.
You’re now six months into your first full-time season as a scholar – how has it been?
I’ve enjoyed it a lot. Physically it’s a test but that’s also a benefit because it can only help me as a player. Being in full-time matures you as a person both on and off the pitch, which can only be good for going on later in life.
-Our youngsters are back in action in the Under-18 Premier League southern section this weekend as they return to Leicester City on Saturday 5 January for an 12noon kick-off. The young Blues are currently third in the league, trailing the leaders Tottenham by just three points.