Robert Cornwall reminisces about the night when 14-year-old Evan Ferguson made his debut for Bohemians in a friendly match against Chelsea. Cornwall, along with other teammates, were not surprised by the young striker’s performance but it was humbling to be outshone by someone much younger.
After more than four years, Ferguson has emerged as one of the most promising players in the Premier League. His hat-trick for Brighton against Newcastle in September solidified his reputation, and with a recent goal against Fulham, the 19-year-old is eager to score again at Everton this Saturday. He previously scored at Goodison Park in a 4-1 victory last season, when the opposing team was led by Frank Lampard, just like on Ferguson’s debut.
Bohemians had an exciting day when they hosted Lampard’s Chelsea at Dalymount Park, giving fans the opportunity to witness one of the top teams in the Premier League. Although it seemed like Chelsea would win with a goal from Michy Batshuayi, Bohemians’ manager Keith Long surprised everyone by bringing on Ferguson in the last 20 minutes. This shifted the atmosphere from “We have a big friendly against Chelsea” to “Who is Evan Ferguson?” according to Cornwall. Ferguson’s performance was outstanding and he controlled the game.
Ferguson cleverly passed the ball to assist Eric Molloy in scoring a late goal, demonstrating his intelligence despite being young. Cornwall and his fellow players had observed for some time the impressive skills Ferguson displayed during practice.
“Our manager had a talent for nurturing young players,” Cornwall recalls. “He was a well-known figure. I believe he was around 13 or 14 years old when he joined us for a recovery day and impressed everyone with his passing skills. After that, he started training with us more frequently at the age of 14. It was surprising to see how big he was at such a young age – he was already the same height as me, 6ft, but a bit leaner. He had a mature presence even at 14.”
“After proving himself, he earned a spot on the team and everything fell into place. He made his debut and consistently trained with us, holding his own. It was quite unbelievable.”
The transition from a budding talent to a starting player in the Premier League has been a quick one. At the age of 16, he joined Brighton and quickly made his debut in a League Cup win against Cardiff. The previous season was when he truly made a name for himself, playing in 19 league games and scoring six goals, as well as making his first appearance for the Republic of Ireland.
As a central defender, Cornwall’s role was supposed to involve teaching Ferguson how to handle the challenges of facing experienced players. However, this plan did not go as expected. “When he decided to leave, some of my teammates were giving interviews and they mentioned that I was one of the strongest players on the team as a center-back, and that one of my strengths was being physical. They also said that Evan used to knock me off balance and put me on the ground,” Cornwall explains.
What stood out to me during our training and small-sided games was his movement. He consistently made smart runs and positioned himself at the back post, always being ahead of me when the ball was played in.
The player consistently made runs to the front post, so I decided to try using my physicality at the next opportunity. This caused him to naturally move towards the back post, and I was unable to keep up with his movements. I complimented him on his impressive movement and encouraged him to continue. I had expected an easy training session against a 14-year-old, but his movement was the most challenging aspect. Additionally, his finishing skills with both feet were impressive and he always aimed for the bottom corner, keeping the goalkeeper on their toes. I was amazed by his level of development at such a young age.
Ferguson played in four games for Bohemians, but it was clear that he would not stay there for long. He had turned down numerous offers before ultimately choosing Brighton as the best place to continue his career in the Premier League. Ferguson’s father, Barry, who also played football, began his career at Coventry but eventually settled in Ireland. He helped keep his son grounded as the hype and attention surrounded him.
“At the time, there was some criticism towards the club for allowing a 14-year-old to train with the first team and be in the dressing room with adult players. However, this was not an issue because the young player was mature and composed. He never acted superior and always approached training with a positive attitude, dedicating himself to showcasing his skills. This attitude has played a crucial role in his success.”
Concerns that Ferguson would become arrogant and lose touch with his humble beginnings at Bohemians were proven wrong. He remains connected to his roots and those who witnessed his performance against Chelsea will always remember it.