Luke Ashburn: Sunday League “Kick Abouts” to Charlton FC
“My dad made a team with all my schoolmates, Warlingham football club, so we started doing that and we progressively moved forward."
At the age of 14, Luke Ashburn has already experienced many levels of youth football. Luke first found joy playing Sunday league football for a local team in South London with his friends. But what started as a hobby has turned into a potential career for Luke. He signed for Charlton F.C’s academy in 2019 and has represented the League One club at various youth levels this season.
Like many schoolchildren in the U.K, Luke’s first taste of regular football came whilst playing for a Sunday league team with his friends – an experience that gave Luke a lot of joy and sparked his enthusiasm for football.
“My dad made a team with all my schoolmates, Warlingham football club, so we started doing that and we progressively moved forward. Sunday league was quite fun to play with my mates, have a kick about, train once a week, go on a Sunday, and play.”
Alongside his Sunday league experience, Luke also took part in an after-school football club. It was here where his talent was first noticed by a coach linked to Crystal Palace FC – Luke’s favourite football team.
“At first, I just started at Warlingham and we did an after school football club too. There was a coach there who was involved in Palace who asked me and a couple of my other mates to go to Palace and I played a game for them.”
Although Luke did not sign for Palace, he continued to play grassroots football and made steady progress whilst representing local teams around South London including Shelton FC, Chipstead and Volenti Academy, who Luke played for when Charlton scouted him.
At Volenti Academy, Luke was aware that scouts were watching him play. But, he was unfazed by the attention and his love of football helped him focus on the game rather than those on the sideline watching him.
“When you play, you don’t have to think about anything, your stress just goes and you can just focus on the game with nothing else to worry about.
“I never knew most of the time that people were watching until I was on trial or you’d see someone in a club tracksuit at a game. But when my dad saw them he’d tell me not to worry and to focus on the game.”
The Challenge of Academy Football
Charlton were impressed with Luke when he played for Volenti in a talent ID game and decided to sign the young defender to their academy. While Luke was excited to join the League One club, he found the demands of professional youth team training tough at first as he balanced this with his Sunday league commitments too.
“It’s hard. When I first went in, I trained on Monday and Thursday and then I went straight into Charlton and I was training three times a week plus a game. I would try and go back to do my Sunday league training because I liked playing with my mates. At first I would say two and three months was quite challenging, the training side of it, because it was more intense, longer and everything but I quite enjoy it now, I like it a lot.”
Charlton were impressed with Luke when he played for Volenti in a talent ID game and decided to sign the young defender to their academy
Luke is Inspired by watching two of his favourite professional players, Tyrick Mitchell and Gary Cahill
Luke has made impressive progress this season. Despite being in the under-14 age group, he has played most of the season at under-15 level and has represented Charlton’s under-16 squad, sometimes playing against players three or four years older than him. But, although it’s a tough test for Luke, it is also a part of academy football he enjoys.
“Going up the age groups is quite challenging as well with a faster tempo, stronger more technical players. It’s proper challenging to play against them because some weeks I’ll be playing against someone who’s 6ft 2!”
But, despite his progress, Luke is well aware of the competition at academy level, which he uses as an inspiration to keep working hard so he can keep playing for Charlton. “It’s a challenge, you’ve always got to be on your toes because trialists are coming in trying to get your shirt and that’s their goal.”
A Future with England?
Luke is Inspired by watching two of his favourite professional players, Tyrick Mitchell and Gary Cahill, perform at the highest level for the team he supports, Crystal Palace. He believes the success of these two players, in particular, is “something to look up to” and the teenager wants to reach some of the same levels as his footballing idols by setting long-term goals and, hopefully, one day, representing England at international level.
“At the start of the season, I wanted to get regular games with the 15s and one game with the 16s but I’ve had about 10 or 11 of them. I want to get a pre-scholar agreement and then start looking at getting an international call up for the 07s. I want to try and be an established first-team player in a few years and get a debut early on.”