Aged just 16 years and three months old, defender Zach Abbott made his first-team debut for Nottingham Forest on Tuesday night in the Carabao Cup second round tie against Grimsby Town, today he gets his GCSE results to cap a memorable week in the young life of a boy who has huge promise in the game of football.
An England U16 international, Abbott played a big part of Forest’s FA Youth Cup run last year, playing in the final at Old Trafford, and was involved in pre-season with Steve Cooper’s first team ahead of being announced on the bench for the trip to Blundell Park.
A gutsy player who’s beyond his years in age, a true defender who likes to head and tackle, still growing in size and stature, who sniffs danger and one which is comfortable with the ball too, one who’s eye for goal compares him to perhaps a young Joe Worrall in the making.
Abbott appeared for just four minutes as an 86th minute substitute for fellow Academy graduate Alex Mighten against the Mariners, in getting on the pitch in the 3-0 win, he becomes the second youngest ever player to represent Forest in a competitive first team game, after Steve Burke in 1976, when he played against Ayr United for Brian Clough’s men in the Anglo-Scottish Cup (aged 16 years and 21 days).
To compare how special this feat is, only three other sixteen year olds have played for Nottingham Forest in a competitive first team fixture. The third youngest is Lee Glover (when 16 years 6 months and 26 days) who made his debut in a 1986 League Cup tie against Bradford City. Glover eventually making over 100 appearances for the club and becoming a household name at the City Ground before moving to the likes of Port Vale, Rotherham United and Macclesfield Town later in his career.
Another player who played his first Reds game aged sweet 16 was Craig Westcarr who debuted against Burnley in 2001. Westcarr is one of few footballers that has played for Forest, Notts County and Mansfield Town and is still playing today, 21 years later, at Hucknall Town in the local non-league scene. Westcarr is the youngest player to represent Forest in the league, having made his first appearance in the second tier during a 1-0 win over the Clarets at the City Ground.
Someone else who knows the non-league scene well, also started his Forest career as a sixteen-year-old back in 1978. Gary Mills might be less remembered for his spells at the likes of Grantham Town, Glapwell and Tamworth, but more so for playing in a European Cup Final against Hamburg at the Bernabeu, aged just eighteen he filled in from the start as a bare bones Forest faced the German champions when a John Robertson goal gave the city of Nottingham its second successive title.
Whether Abbott will follow the footsteps of a European Cup winner or not (here’s hoping he does), whether it’ll end in Non League or whether he’ll have a promising career in the Premier League, his career is at the start of something special, which only he, along with a bit of luck, skill and attitude, can control.
Abbott who is the first player born in 2006 to play for a Premier League club, is not alone on the conveyor belt that is Forest Academy starlets to get game time under Steve Cooper this season.
Against Grimsby, the Reds gave a start to Aaron Donnelly who played the whole ninety minutes at left wing back. Donnelly who is 19 has already been capped by Northern Ireland U21’s and his Manager Cooper, one who knows a thing or two about youngsters having lead England U17’s to a World Cup win in 2017, after the match commented “He was excellent for his first game, he played like a man”.
Aaron’s mum, Martina, stating on Twitter “Dreams do come true. This is the day he dreamed of from 3 years of age. Congratulations on making your debut. We are proud of you son”.
Another Northern Irish teenage star, who made his full international debut against Lithuania last November, and one who’s appeared on the bench previously for Forest, is centre forward Dale Taylor, who also made his Reds debut coming on as a late substitute at Grimsby, whilst 19-year-old Welsh midfielder Ollie Hammond as a 69th minute sub, came on for Cheikh Kouyate to play his first competitive first-team match.
Taylor stating “Unbelievable feeling to make my debut for this fantastic club. Hopefully more to come”.
With the likes of Billy Fewster and Alex Gibson-Hammond who made the bench on Tuesday also to come, the Category One status that the Club Academy now has is certainly paying dividends, and with that, the club is excited about the future of a handful of their prospects. Let’s hope to see them in the Premier League sometime soon.
*Article provided by Daniel Peacock (Editor).
*Main image @NFFC Zach Abbott becomes one of five players aged 16 to make his debut for Forest.