Words by: Charles Wade-Palmer
This feature initially appeared in the Chelmsford City matchday programme, The Claret.
Centre-back Evan Payne is as cool off the pitch as he is on it.
Even after spending his entire teenage years playing up an age group, the 17-year-old is finding adult football quite the learning curve.
This season, Evan, from the village Raynee near Braintree, has been involved in each of Chelmsford’s Academy, Reserves and First Team set-ups.
It’s lucky too because he cannot get enough of it.
Mum Julie said: “I think he likes the way it’s set up so he can move between the three teams. He can play for the Reserves, he can be involved on the bench and train with the First Team and is still also involved in the Academy.”
After a season with the EJA, Evan got his first run out for the First Team on the Clarets’ pre-season Texo Tour in Scotland.
After completing the full 90 minutes on his debut, the defender went on to make a few more appearances north of the border as well as the Academy’s game against Hearts.
Speaking on the transition to the men’s game which has brought a lot of Reserves action his way, Evan said: “It’s a lot different to what I’ve played before, but I really enjoy it.
“You can learn a lot from other people around you and they’re not scared to help you out either.”
Football fans are used to seeing young attacking talents become a target for opposition bully boys looking to put them in their place as they break into the men’s game.
But while less obvious, Evan and certainly Julie can confirm that a teenage centre back is not immune to the same treatment.
“It’s been hard at times, especially against the more physical teams but it’s definitely enjoyable, it’s more of a challenge than my own age group like with the Academy and stuff,” Evan admitted.
“It’s not really people who want to play seriously at times, especially when they just want to kick you.
“I think a lot of the team have been taking a few knocks especially against the more physical teams, but it’s a good challenge to still try and play football how we want to.”
He added: “You sort of have to expect it and deal with it at times. You have to protect yourself but also give it as well to make sure you’re not getting bossed out the game.”
It has not always made for pleasant viewing for Julie, who can’t help but admire her son’s cool head in the face of it all.
She said: “I think you can see that for some teams bouncing players around a bit is part of their tactics because they can see that they’re younger.
“You lose the skill and the beauty of the game then and you’re always worried that he’s going to get hammered because it is a lot more physical.
“He’s perfectly capable of looking after himself really, he’s quite laid back as well which is something that amazes me, he doesn’t lose his temper he just laughs it off. They don’t get a rise out of him like they expect to.”
Keeping calm is apparently not something Evan has inherited from dad Colin.
“He definitely gets that more from me than his dad who still plays actually,” Julie added. “He avoids confrontation and I know it’s cliche, but he lets his football do the talking and doesn’t get involved in any of it.”
Evan’s path to Chelmsford City is quite unique in that he joined the Club having played for just one team from the age of seven to 16.
It was only when his age group at Rayne Youth folded that he was forced looked to take the next step.
Colin, who currently plays for Bocking Vets FC, explained: “I coached him from U7s at Rayne, the little village we live in. I was secretary at the club but then did some coaching badges and Evan played for me until U18s. He always played up a year with his brother.”
Like many parents in kids’ football, Colin added: “I only took the job on because nobody else would!”
With the impending decision of whether to head for university or not in September, Evan hopes hard work in Claret colours will make his choice easier.
For now though, his sole aim is to develop his physical strength and reading of the game to become a real asset for Robbie Simpson’s squad.
Evan said: “I’d like to be in the First Team as much as I can, I need to work a bit harder and then see where I can go from there really. I want to push myself as hard as I can this year to be the best player I can be.
“I know what I need to do to get there. I need to become more technical and understand the game more and become stronger so I can build the physical side of the game.”
Julie revealed that although Evan is considering studying “anything to do with sport,” he would love to pursue things at the EMG Inspire Stadium.
“He wanted to go to uni later this year, but you can sort of see him torn because he loves the football and the Club as well, so there are lots of things to weigh up,” she said.
“He loves it there; I think he loves the whole set-up and the ability to go into the First Team if he’s good enough. It’s just that final push now that’ll make him lean towards staying.”