For every aspiring footballer who makes it to the top of their profession, there are thousands more youngsters who, for various reasons, don’t quite make it.
Many of these youngsters are excellent footballers with bags of talent.
But talent alone doesn’t guarantee a career in the sport. As well as the right mentality, you also need plenty of breaks along the way.
Two players who got those breaks at the right time in their early lives were current Chelsea stars Mason Mount and Christian Pulisic.
The 23-year-olds are now regulars for club and country. It’s fair to say they’re living their childhood dream.
Back in June 2010, the duo were posed for a photo together when Pennsylvania-born Pulisic was visiting the London club.
Who’s the other boy in the Mount and Pulisic photo?
Alongside them in the photo is another boy, who spoke openly and honestly to Kent Online in August 2020 after the photo went viral on social media.
Aged 21 at the time, Tom Carlton admitted he struggled to watch his former teammates play Premier League and Champions League football while he turned out for Kent-based Herne Bay FC in the Isthmian League South East Division.
“It’s hard, to be honest,” he said. “It’s not because of jealousy or anything like that – fair play to them for making it that far – but it could have been me and that’s why it’s so hard to watch.”
Mount, Pulisic… and Tom Carlton! Third kid in Chelsea Twitter academy snap from 2010 is now a window fitter playing in the eighth tier of English football – and admits it's tough watching his old pals on TV. pic.twitter.com/HnZlcsTe3C— Frank Khalid (@FrankKhalidUK) August 12, 2020
Tom received a flurry of messages on social media after the photo was shared on Twitter.
“I woke up that morning and my phone had about 500 messages,” he continued. “I was pretty shocked. I didn’t even remember Pulisic being at Chelsea at the time until I saw the picture.
“Apparently, he was there on a 10-day trial and he obviously didn’t get signed at the time.”
Tom arrived at Chelsea at the age of six and grew up playing alongside Declan Rice, the current West Ham and England star.
Carlton and Rice were both released by Chelsea aged 14
The pair became good friends but both were given the devastating news aged 14 that Chelsea were releasing them.
“It was hard to take,” Tom admitted, “It was heart-breaking.
“For a week after I was really upset; I didn’t go back to school for the next couple of days because my head was all over the place.
“But two or three days later my dad was receiving phone call after phone call from different clubs, like West Ham, Charlton, Millwall, Fulham, Birmingham, West Brom – a lot of clubs.”
Two weeks later, West Ham snapped up Carlton and Rice.
Tom was then released by West Ham aged 16
But while Rice stayed on and turned pro with the Hammers, Tom was released at the age of 16.
“It was harder to take because I chucked my life away just for football, really,” he said. “I didn’t see friends; I didn’t see anyone.
“After that, I was thinking, ‘I’ve done all that just to be released again’.
But he decided to continue with football, adding: “I had an agent at the time and after having a chat with him, I thought I’d give it another go.”
When the photo went viral in 2020, Rice described his old pal as a “top player and even better person” via Twitter.
And despite all the setbacks that he’s encountered over the past decade, Tom maintained that he was still chasing his dream of turning professional.
“About last year, I wanted to quit football because I was down and depressed a lot,” the glazier added.
“My girlfriend told me I can’t quit because I can still make it – I still have a chance.
“Until I’m at an age where I don’t think I can do it, I’ll still believe that I can make it into the Football League.”
Tom signed for a new club this summer
In July 2022, Isthmian League South East Division side Faversham Town announced Tom had signed for them.
“It’s a pleasure for myself to work with Tom again, the lad has bags of ability,” joint-manager Jermaine Darlington to the club’s website.
“He is a proper goal-scoring midfielder, great dead-ball specialist and has that killer pass in him which can split teams apart.”
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