By Leigh Bailey
A hubbub of noise emanates from Billericay Town’s New Lodge. Another evening, another training session. Instructions boom out, a howl of frustration hangs in the air as a target is missed. A steady hum of parents’ chatter from the side-line buzzes in the background.
Perhaps a future Billericay first team player will be crafted on that very pitch. Perhaps he or she is even there tonight. Stepping forward, dressed in the sporting attire of a training bound footballer, is an expert witness for the prosecution of such a theory. Step forward, George Wind, signed and confirmed as a Blues first team player for the 2021/22 season.
Wind, only 18 last November, smiles at where it all began for him. He recalls, “I started off at Hannikins Farm, it was a little team in Billericay.”
Soon spotted by a local scout, he was whisked off up county at the tender age of eight to the Colchester United academy. On reaching sixteen, George did not gain a coveted scholarship. Disappointed, he returned to local football and worked hard.
After a brief stay at a junior Hornchurch side, he joined Bowers & Pitsea for the 2018/19 season. It was the making of him, fashioning him into a first team player at step three.
“I played 18’s, 23’s, went all the way through”, he reflects. He modestly does not mention that he was part of the U-23 title winning team for two successive campaigns and made his first team debut in the Isthmian Premier League versus Worthing at only sixteen.
Having run for just over a full year, the pandemic has wrought havoc with the fixture schedules and financial health of non-league football clubs. It is ironic that without the virus disruption to the playing schedule, Billericay might not have unearthed this fine right-back.
Wind explains: “When the season got null and voided, I came over to Billericay, just with the 23’s because I knew some of the boys.’ “Then I got the opportunity to play in a couple of games for this season just ended. Did well and carried on training and now I’m here.”
The initial funding provided to Step two football clubs to carry on the season during COVID expired at Christmas. Having reached February, prohibitions on spectator admissions remained in force. At a time of zero income stream, a number of clubs, including Billericay, took the decision to furlough their first team squads. Several teams refused to play further.
For the Blues, it was a case of the show must go on and opportunity passed to teenagers in the U-23 squad. Non-contracted first team players, including striker Rowan Liburd, completed the line-up. Called up for a first team fixture against third placed, St. Albans, Wind describes the step-up in level with remarkable, but justified, confidence.
He explains, “Because of playing at Bowers, I realised I could play that level. Obviously, this was a step up so I didn’t really know what to expect coming into it. But as soon as the game kicks off, and you get your first touch, the nerves all go away.”
A Blues side featuring six debut-makers from the U-23 squad never looked out of place in the hustle and bustle of step two football. In a day when youth was given its head, it was fitting that the final word would go to a fellow academy graduate, Gabriel Ipanga Mbambo. On as a substitute, the seventeen year old striker would notch a late equaliser in a thrilling 2-2 draw.
Wind, installed as right wing back, in manager Kevin Watson’s 3-5-2 formation, impressed immediately. His direct opponent was Saints’ left winger, Zane Banton, a highly rated player. An early intervention from Wind on a Banton foray down the flank set the tone. Looking assured all afternoon, the debut maker delivered a man of the match performance.
If the watching fans on the live stream of the game were impressed, the all-important arbiter of any performance, the manager was equally thrilled by the team and individual displays.
An excited Wind recounts, “He said in his interview that I was like prime Gary Neville. It was good to get man of the match in my first game and for Kev to compliment me like that.”
Neville retired from professional football at the latter stages of the 2010/11 season when Wind was eight years old. Nonetheless, there is no doubt that Watson’s reference struck home and ensured a proud day for the Wind household after a distinguished debut.
By April, Wind had signed a first team contract and is now a firm part of Watson’s plans for the coming campaign. Rightly proud to have earned the deal, Wind is unique in the team in that he has literally stepped out from the terraces and taken his place on the pitch.
He explains, “A few years ago, I used to come down here quite a lot and watch all the games. Being from Billericay myself, when Billericay won the league a few years ago I ran on the pitch with everyone and now I’ve signed the contract and am playing here!”
As well as the energy and enthusiasm of youth, Wind also offers positional flexibility. Having featured both as a full-back and right midfielder for Bowers, he notes that he is most comfortable in the right back or right wing back role. Yet, there could be another option.
He elaborates, “We played a training game on Tuesday and I played right centre-half of the three and I enjoyed that as well. I’d say my best position is probably right wing-back because then I can attack and defend and get the best of both worlds.”
For now, supporter expectations are firmly focused on Wind making that right wing back spot his own and providing much needed dynamism to support the manager’s plans. A keen student of the game, Wind has set his targets for inspiration at the highest possible level.
“As a right back, I look at somebody like Trent Alexander-Arnold and his ability to pass and cross the ball”, he advises. “I look at him a lot to watch the positions he gets into, his technique of pass.”
He continues, “But then there’s someone like Wan-Bissaka who is a great 1v1 defender, the other side of it. They are the two main full-back’s that I like to watch when I’m watching football.”
At present, following the sage advice of his new team-mates to “keep working hard”, “stay grounded and keep focusing”, this young prospect has every chance to see how far his skills take him in the game.
That he can develop them further is strongly linked to the impressive facilities and stadium on offer at Billericay’s sporting hub.
As he explains, “It’s really good to have these facilities to train on and play on. That did definitely attract me here.”
With pathway teams covering most junior age groups up until first team, and even men’s walking football from 50 years and over, Wind is far from alone in reaping the reward of the substantial investments made into the community by the club’s owners.
In all likelihood, Wind is likely to be one of the top performers in terms of fitness within the playing squad. Current at a sixth form with football academy, he trains there regularly in addition to twice weekly club sessions. He confesses to be “fit and ready for the season.”
As he admits, a new season is August is some time away and there are greater challenges to negotiate before the big kick-off. The student has exams due this summer. One gets the feeling though that this chatty, intelligent young man will handle the stress and rigours of his three ‘A’ levels in the same unflustered fashion as he handled his full league debut.