When a player makes his debut for club or country, the performance can be inspiring. In 1994, at the age of 22, Zinedine Zidane made his international debut for France in a game against the Czech Republic. He came on as a substitute at 2-0 down and scored two cracking goals to level the game.
A player’s debut can also be comical. In 1996, an unknown player by the name of Ali Dia was signed by Southampton. A phone call from Liberian soccer legend George Weah, who spoke very highly of Dia, talked then-boss Graeme Souness into the purchase. So after a short training session the day before a game against Leeds, Dia made his debut for Southampton and proceeded to run around recklessly for 10 minutes, before being subbed off. As it turned out, it wasn’t George Weah who phoned Souness, but rather someone doing an impersonation. The whole thing was a big scam. Dia has since gone MIA, but will forever go down in soccer history for the hilarious con.
A debut can be miserable for a player. In 2000 Leeds United signed Rio Ferdinand for a record 18 million pounds from West Ham. After about 30 minutes, Leeds was down 3-0 and Ferdinand was having a shocker! Chants of “What a waste of money” could be heard around Elland Road.
Finally, a debut can be rather ordinary in terms of a player’s performance. That is how I would describe my debut for Bray Wanderers. While the memory will go down as one I will never forget, in the sense of my performance it was rather ordinary.
Traveling to play league-leader Sligo Rovers was always going to be a huge occasion. It's a great side with some very talented players, and they can play some really attractive soccer. The match was to be broadcast live on RTE 2, the big sports network in Ireland, making the occasion even bigger.
As we traveled up to Sligo, surprisingly I didn’t feel nervous or anxious. To be honest, I slept the whole trip. When I woke up in Sligo the only emotion that came over me was one of excitement. Going to the bigger teams in the league means a big crowd and a great atmosphere. The Sligo fans packed into their ground, the Showgrounds, and they didn’t disappoint. The atmosphere was electric. A good contingent of Bray fans was present as well. With their flags flying and their Bray kits on, I was proud to slip on the jersey for the first time to play in front of the traveling fans.
The game was pretty cagey at first, but as we started to settle in and soak up some of Sligo’s early pressure, we started to create a few chances of our own. We went ahead in the second half from a Jason Bryne goal. He’s so clinical and he proved to everyone present why he’s the best striker in the league. Sligo, however, equalized shortly after, from an impressive run from right back Alan Keane. At 1-1 we came under some pretty serious pressure from the league leaders, but we did well to keep them at bay.
As I was told to warm up midway through the second half I heard chants of “USA, USA!” from the Bray supporters. It was a pretty special moment for me, because playing in college you don’t really get that kind of individual support from fans. As our manager Pat Devlin motioned over to me that I would be going in, the adrenaline began to flow. It was 1-1 in the 87th minute and I had a chance to make a name for myself. I was subbed in for Jason, our star striker, and was to play as a lone forward. As I stepped across the white line I could hear a song in my honor from the Bray fans and that was pretty special too. The lyrics went a little something like this: “Oh Brendan ooooh. Oh Brendan ooooh. He comes from USA, and now he plays for Bray!” Pretty catchy I suppose. It was great to get that kind of support from our fans and it made the occasion pretty special.
Like I said, a player’s performance on his debut can be pretty ordinary, and that is just how mine was. Getting thrown into a match like that so late is always tough. We didn’t have much possession and were really hanging on for our lives at that point. My duties were mainly defensive ones and the game finished out with us clinching a valuable and well-deserved away point.
As I walked off the pitch, I was proud of the eight minutes I had played. It was great to slip on that jersey for the first time and play in front of some of our loyal traveling fans. It is a memory that I will never forget. Since that game I have played in a few more matches and have switched clubs. My debut here in Alta was pretty ordinary as well, but it was great to wear that kit for the first time and get some minutes.
Getting playing time in a game is really just the culmination of a lot of hard work. It is something I try to never take for granted. You never really know when your last game could be and every minute should be treated with that kind of attitude. Hopefully I will be involved in many more games here in Alta and I am really enjoying the challenge of working every day towards getting on the pitch!