It must have been a shock for Craig Eastmond when he turned up to train with Sutton United for the first time on a warm September day last year.
The 25-year-old was once tipped to be a future England player and the stalwart of Arsenal’s midfield for years to come, playing alongside fellow academy graduate Jack Wilshere.
But in football, like life, things don’t always work out the way you expect, or dream. Eastmond signed a long-term contract with the Gunners in 2010 shortly after an impressive debut at Liverpool. Five years later, he was on the football scrapheap.
Spells with Colchester United and Yeovil Town were not successful, and last summer he found himself unemployed and unwanted.
Eventually, National League South side Sutton came forward with an ambitious bid. After careful consideration, Eastmond jumped at the chance to get back on a pitch again – even if they’re not as smooth as the Emirates Stadium.
“The way they play their football is what attracted me here,” he said.
“There wasn’t anyone in the window interested at the time and I was told Sutton would be a good idea because of the way they play. Plus, it’s close to my house so I thought it was ideal.”
The marriage of convenience is working well. Eastmond has starred in midfield this season and United have shot up to third in the league. They are the form team of the division and promotion is in sight.
For Battersea-born Eastmond, whose cousin Kyle plays rugby for Bath and England, the step down has been exactly what was needed. After years on the fringes, he now commands a first-team place.
“When I was at Yeovil, it was tough,” he said.
“It was obvious I was going to struggle to get in the team, but now I’m at Sutton I’m happier. I enjoy playing, I’ve got my love for football back again. That is what I always look for. To play every game.”
United fans will be forgiven for worrying that their star man may leave in the summer. No club has come forward yet, but Eastmond, who signed a new deal to May 2017 in December, doesn’t hide his long-term goals. He’s ambitious and hungry to prove a point to those who chose not to sign him.
“I always think about it more or less,” he said.
“It takes time, but at the moment I just want to focus on Sutton.
“The target is to get promoted and if someone comes in then I will think about it, but my current aim is to do well here.”
The league is the only competition Sutton are concentrating on after they were knocked out of the FA Trophy by lower-league side Bognor Regis on Tuesday.
League leaders Ebbsfleet are 12 points clear at the top, and occupy the only automatic promotion spot, but Sutton have two games in hand and should at the very least secure a play-off place.
Prior to their cup-tie with Bognor Regis, they had won eight games in a row, 11 of their last 12, scored 31 goals and conceded just five. Ebbsfleet may have breathing space, but they may need an oxygen tank if Sutton maintain their form.
“Anything is possible,” added Eastmond.
“They can slip up and we have games in hand too so if we do what we have to do we can put them under pressure.
“If we win all our games then we will look at it at the end and see where we are. It’s all about taking it game by game.”
Bath City, in 18th, are the next cannon fodder to visit Gander Green Lane on Saturday and a win could see the hosts go ahead of Maidstone United in second. The only way is up it seems. For Sutton, and their in-form, rejuvenated midfielder.
Image courtesy of Colchester United, via Youtube, with thanks