For Alfie Gilchrist and his family, the new contract he has signed has added poignancy.
Our Under-21 captain’s earliest Chelsea memories are not briefly representing us at Under-9 level. Nor rejoining the club aged 11. No, Gilchrist was wearing a blue shirt long before then, adorned in junior kits given to him by his Chelsea-mad father and grandfather.
Gilchrist would accompany them to games on a regular basis, too, even in those couple of years he was playing for QPR’s youth teams.
Usually sat in the East Lower family section, Gilchrist watched at close quarters the Chelsea stars he dreamed of one day emulating. With the news he has penned a fresh deal at his boyhood club, he is one step closer to realising that dream.
‘It’s one of the things you work towards,’ Alfie tells us, looking out over the main Academy pitch at Cobham where he has long impressed.
‘When they call you in and tell you you’re getting a new contract, it’s a big achievement, and especially being a Chelsea fan and loving the club so much. It’s extra special.
‘My whole family are Chelsea. My dad still comes with me now, my grandad also loves Chelsea. They used to have season tickets, but I can help them now!
‘I was here at Under-9s for a bit, chose a different pathway at QPR, but was still going to Chelsea games with my dad,’ Alfie continues.
‘When I was at QPR, we played against Chelsea and I had a good game. I knew one of the scouts and he watched that game. He knew my parents from previous times and they spoke after the game. I wanted to be back here as well. When they gave me the opportunity it was amazing.
‘From then, I have just loved Chelsea even more, being a part of it, seeing everything, how the club runs itself. It’s so good.’
Gilchrist has had the privilege of working closely with John Terry in the past couple of years. A childhood hero and fellow centre-back, Terry regularly passes on little tips to help Gilchrist master his craft.
The 19-year-old has regularly stepped up to train with the first team in recent months, and even featured in two of our pre-season friendlies in the U.S. Thiago Silva, twice his age but still playing at the highest level, has proven another inspiration he can watch close up.
Their leadership skills have clearly rubbed off on Gilchrist.
‘Even when I don’t have the armband, I feel my responsibility to help people out, talking, communicating, which helps my game as well. If I have my midfielder slightly across, he’s not going to play the ball and it makes my life easier. It keeps you concentrated as well.
‘I see myself as a brave defender who likes to put my body in the way, a good communicator, a leader, and also tidy on the ball, trying to start attacks,’ adds Alfie when we ask what sort of defender he is.
Gilchrist has spent near enough a decade in the Chelsea Academy. A friendly yet assured young man, he credits them with ‘teaching me to be a good person as well as a good player, and helping me with a lot of life skills.’
On the pitch, Gilchrist believes the ‘elite’ coaching he has received is unparalleled at youth level. Yet there is always more to learn and he is relishing working alongside Mauricio Pochettino, himself a former defender, when he links up with the senior team.
‘All he wants you to do is work hard, focus on the details and communication, and in everything you do, do things early,’ reveals Gilchrist.
‘From the 18s to the 21s is a big step, and then it’s an even bigger step to the first team, especially going into a Premier League side. The level and intensity, there is no time to rest, just working hard. The sharpness of the players is extra so you need to work quicker.
‘It has definitely helped me see things quicker. You have to move the ball and make better angles. That also helps when you come back down to the 21s. You can help the other lads around you which is good, and set more demands on them.’
Gilchrist does not hesitate to set demands on himself, too. With his new deal secured, he hopes to embark on his first loan move in the not-too-distant future. Long term, one aspiration stands above all others: ‘Break into the Chelsea first team.’
You can only imagine the pride and joy that would bring Alfie’s father and grandfather.