RELEASED by Bristol Rovers at 15, Lee Evans thought his dreams of making it as a footballer were over. But inspired by the support of his family, and his home-town club Newport County AFC, the level-headed teen has earned a head-spinning move to Midlands giants Wolves, and in the process proved that through hard work you can achieve your dreams. He talks to WILL BAIN.
IF IT wasn’t for my family, I wouldn’t be here talking about this now, that’s for sure, they’ve been amazing.
When I was released by Bristol Rovers at 15, that was one of the worst feelings I’ve ever had in my life.
Maybe I took my eye off the ball. I had a lot of people saying I was going to get a scholarship and things like that and then that happened.
I was in tears back in Newport and I thought, that’s it, done.
But my dad said now was the time to work harder and to show I was good enough. He said, ‘we know you’re good enough, it’s up to you now’.
It’s always been about football for me.
I remember when we lived at Pilton Vale I got a new set of goals for Christmas and me and Josh Powell went out to just kick a ball around. We were probably out there for four or five hours.
My first club was Malpas United when I was about 11 or 12. I remember we won the league, the Newport Cup and the Gwent Cup and we got to the final of the Welsh Cup at Ninnian Park in Cardiff but we lost in extra time.
I remember being devastated at the time but they’re memories I cherish even now.
There’s so many good football people in Newport, and we’re going to keep producing players here now because of that and the County academy.
Tony Ward, the manager at Malpas, was a massive help in my career, as was Dave Murphy, my coach at Newport YMCA.
I owe them and Derek Fowle at Newport Schools and Martin Evans at Wales Schools a massive thank-you.
I eventually joined the academy at Newport, having had a trial at Hereford.
Glyn Jones, Danny Elliot, Steve Davies, John White and all the team were brilliant to me and I felt confident in the U18 team there, particularly in my second year.
Nobody expected me to break through into the first team then, and that is the attitude I have taken with me to Wolves too.
I’m in the U21s now but if I play well the manager (Dean Saunders) has said there’s no reason why I won’t get a chance to be around the first team.
It’s so surreal being at Wolves.
When I was at Bettws High School my teacher, Mr Devney, was a big Wolves fan and I used to take the mick out of him all the time about it!
You’re training every day with people you’ve seen on the telly. The other night I played with Stephen Hunt because he was on his way back from injury and you just look at him and think, ‘that’s Stephen Hunt, he’s played at the European championships’. It’s mad.
Even talking about it now it’s surreal.
When you get to the training ground and there’s guys arriving in Lamborghinis and Range Rovers and all these amazing cars and there’s me rolling up in a taxi from the hotel, it’s bizarre.
Everything is totally different up there.
When I walked through the door at the training ground a guy took my boots out my hand and said he was going to clean them and they’d be back on my peg. My dad says that’s another job he’s lost now!
It was the Tuesday night before the transfer window closed on January 31 when I heard two bids for me had been rejected.
The rumours going round were that Stoke City were interested in me, perhaps because of Tony Pulis’ (Stoke manager’s) connection to Newport, but the two bids were from Wolves.
When they were rejected I thought that was it and I’d be staying for the rest of the season, but then on Wednesday morning a third bid was accepted.
So on Wednesday night I went up to Wolverhampton to do the first part of my medical at the training ground.
It was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done, they just put your body through every test you can imagine.
It seemed to take for ever for the transfer to be confirmed, but when it did it was all a blur, going on that amazing pitch with the shirt. The stadium is huge.
I was itching to tell people about it but I knew I couldn’t, so my mates gave me a bit of stick about it but they’re all pleased for me. People say they just shut it all out when there’s interest from a big club in you but that’s just about impossible, I think.
I think it was starting to get to me, every time I misplaced a pass I’d think, ‘damn, I’ve blown it’.
I can’t thank the County fans enough for being so patient and supportive of me, though.
Hopefully they know I’m one of their own and I’m going to be looking out for their results every week.
The same goes for Justin Edinburgh (county manager) and Jimmy Dack (his assistant), they gave me my chance and I’ll never forget that. That trip to Wembley and for the gaffer to give me an opportunity to play on that amazing pitch, where so many great players have played, there aren’t many people who can say they’ve done that. I’m just really excited about working hard now.
My family were all over the moon and I want to repay them now by working hard.
My brother Danny has literally been all over the country to watch me and his support has been amazing.
He’s joking now that a pair of free trainers will do him, I said I bet they would!
My sister came to see my first game for Wolves too, which meant a lot, my family are really important to me.
My mum has done everything for me and I’m just doing my best to make her proud, and Dad, well he talks a lot of rubbish sometimes but he knows about football! I wouldn’t have done it without him. My nan said my grandad, who passed away, would have been really proud, and every time I walk on the field I always remember my auntie, Julie Bond, from Maesglas, telling me she knew I was going to make it, before she died recently.
I’ll never forget where I’ve come from.
ARGUS COMMMENT: Lee, be true to yourself
PROFESSIONAL footballers tend not to be particularly well respected.
Many people find their lavish lifestyles and often outrageous behaviour, both on and off the pitch, distasteful in the extreme.
As with most aspects of modern life, perception is often divorced from reality, and we have no doubt the majority of professional footballers are decent people with the ability to be good role models.
Lee Evans certainly fits that bill.
The teenager has just signed for Wolverhampton Wanderers from his hometown club, Newport County, and many football experts believe he has the potential to be one of the finest players to come from this city.
The humility and gratitude to his family, friends and youth coaches shown by Lee in our First Person interview today mark him out as a levelheaded young man.
The youngster now has the opportunity to live his dreams at the upper levels of football in this country.
We hope he achieves everything he wants to in the sport.
More importantly, we hope he retains the values he shows in today’s interview.
When the money begins rolling in, bringing with it all the temptations that so many young footballers struggle to resist, we hope Lee remembers his words in today’s Argus.
He says he will never forget where he comes from. Let’s hope he keeps that promise.