It’s pretty safe to say that Ryan Ellison may not make his FA Cup debut in the way he dreamt about as a football-mad young boy growing up in Stockport.
In an ideal world, it would be for boyhood club Manchester City, having risen through the ranks and been given his chance to impress by manager Pep Guardiola.
Instead, the 20-year-old full-back is hoping to have shaken off a hamstring injury and turn out for Evo-Stik North outfit Hyde United as they host MK Dons in the first round.
‘’The atmosphere is going to be unbelievable,” he told me ahead of Friday game. “It’s a 3,500 sell-out – we usually only average 300-400 a game. Those few hundred always make themselves heard, so it’s going to be incredibly raucous with 3,000-plus!”
If selected, Ellison will – of course – be giving his all to help the Tigers reach the second round, but he freely admits that he never expected to be plying his trade in English football’s eighth tier.
“I started at Manchester City aged 13, and I enjoyed it there,’’ he recalls. “It was a huge change to go into a properly competitive environment where the players have the same aim to be a professional.
“Unfortunately, when it came to a getting scholarship, they had a right-back in that year called Cameron Humphreys who they thought had a better chance than me, and they thought it best for me to go to another club.”
Despite the disappointment of being released, the chance of becoming a professional was still a distinct possibility as Sunderland snapped him up after impressing on trial.
“They were the first team I went on trial with, and they wanted me to sign a two-year scholarship,’’ he explains. ‘’I thoroughly enjoyed it there – and if I’m being honest the players were far more welcoming than at the Etihad.’’
However, his dream of ‘making it’ began to fade. “I ended up leaving because the club didn’t see a path into the first team for me,’’ he says reflects with a hint of sadness.
Ellison wasn’t prepared to give up hope, though, and had further trials at Oldham, Sheffield United and various teams in Scotland.
‘The best-case scenario is that I can be a full-time player again as it will always be the thing I most enjoy’
“I still wanted to be a full-time professional and earn a contract somewhere, but bad luck just seemed to come my way.” he said.
“Sheffield United didn’t have a place in the team for me and were just wasting my time. At Oldham, the gaffer wanted to sign me, but on the day I went to put pen to paper he left due to a disagreement with the chairman.”
So he looked down the leagues and signed for Hyde in 2015, but the flames of his pro ambitions are still flickering.
Given a chance
“It’s obviously a part-time club, where we only train twice a week and have a game at the weekend – so straight away it was hard to maintain the same level of fitness.
“But I actually believe that, given a chance at bigger clubs, some non-league players could make it.
“I don’t know exactly what my future holds – I have to be in check with reality as my chance of becoming an elite pro is so slim. I’m lucky to have a full-time job at the moment in construction and civil engineering.
“But that doesn’t mean I’m not putting all my effort into being the best footballer I can be. The best-case scenario is that I can be a full-time player again as it will always be the thing I most enjoy.”
Hyde have endured a tough spell in recent years, including three relegations in four seasons, with crowds dwindling by 50% and only around £500 in the bank at one point.
‘It’s one of the biggest matches I might ever play in my career and it’s a great opportunity for myself and the club’
But former Oldham and Halifax boss Darren Kelly was appointed as manager in May 2016 and has overseen a swing in the club’s fortunes.
The Ewen Fields side are unbeaten in 20 league games and have already seen off Congleton Town, Kendal Town, Warrington Town, Boston Town and Scarborough Athletic en route to the FA Cup first round proper, scoring 13 goals along the way since entering the competition in August.
As Ellison explains, he cannot wait for Friday night: “I believe the Hyde fans are the best in non-league. The club has had a few hard years, but it’s on the up and the whole club is incredibly friendly and welcoming.
“The fans are unbelievable – most of them volunteer to clean the ground or do other jobs such as working behind the bar or in the club shop, for free. Not to mention how incredible the away support always is. The club spirit is the best I’ve ever seen.’”
The Tigers have earned £29,425 from their FA Cup run so far and are expected to receive a further £100,000 from TV revenue, gate receipts and sponsorship for the televised clash against MK Dons.
For Ellison, it’s a chance to put his recent injury problems behind him and test himself once more on the big stage.
“I’m hopefully going to get on the pitch at some point. It’s one of the biggest matches I might ever play in my career and it’s a great opportunity for myself and the club.
“It would great to get a replay at their stadium, as it would be a fantastic experience being able to play at a larger ground.
“It’s such a special competition. The atmosphere is always so tense and exciting. As everyone knows, anything can happen in football, so everyone has hope.”