Jack Patterson says he’s ready to hit the ground running on Merseyside after securing a dream move to Premier League side Everton.
The 16-year-old from Ballyclare has impressed Greenisland and Crusaders coaches and now he’s hoping to catch the eye of Toffees boss Frank Lampard.
Despite making only four appearances for the Crues, the defensive midfielder has already demonstrated an intelligence, work ethic and talent which has seen him make the huge leap from Irish League to England’s top flight.
After agreeing a three-year professional contract with Everton, the former Ballyclare High student can’t wait to take his football education to the next level.
Patterson arrived in Liverpool yesterday determined to make the most of this golden opportunity to pursue his club and international dreams.
Lifted by the support of his family, coaches at Crusaders and the Irish FA JD Academy, he now has a steely determination to realise his potential.
Inspired by the achievements of former Greenisland heroes such as Jonny Evans, Corry Evans, Michael Smith, Craig Cathcart and Dale Taylor, Patterson is hungry to taste success with the Toffees.
“Surprisingly, I’m not nervous, I can’t wait to get started,” he said with a beaming smile.
“The challenge excites me. I’m the kind of person that doesn’t like to be in my comfort zone, I like to be challenged and it will be great for me to try something different and hopefully it takes my career in a positive new direction. Whenever you have an opportunity like this, which is every kid’s dream in the UK, you have to go for it.
“Boys dream of playing professional football in England and I feel like I deserve it. I’m delighted but I wouldn’t say I feel lucky as I’ve worked hard.
“I want to play at the highest level I can and I’d love to play in the Premier League for Everton.
“I have to focus on the Under-18 Premier League games and the Youth Cup is massive, Old Trafford was sold out for the final and it would be great to win that. Just to compete in it would be brilliant. Leighton Baines will be my manager and hopefully I’ll meet Frank Lampard.”
Patterson, who came on as a late substitute for Adam Lecky to make his Crues debut in a 4-0 win against Warrenpoint Town in early January 2021, will settle in with a host family near Everton’s training ground.
He will be staying with former Ballymena United ace and Newtownabbey man Dylan Graham (17), while former Dungannon Swifts player Sean McAllister, now 19, is also at the club.
Time spent with the Irish FA JD Academy leaves Patterson confident he can cope with the change in demands and lifestyle.
“Scouts were watching me and I’ve been at Everton twice on trial. I liked the club because I felt at home,” he added.
“Nottingham Forest were interested but when Everton wanted me I was keen to get it over the line. I will need to keep myself occupied as I don’t want to get homesick.
“I lived in Jordanstown for the last two years as part of the ClubNI set-up and that definitely helped me. Without that experience I would have been worried about leaving family but now it feels normal. The Uefa Academy is a real help. We had Jim Magilton, Gerard Lyttle, Stevie Lynch and now Andy Waterworth, Kris Lindsay and Rory Hale. It’s been a very good experience for me.
“I’m not that far away and family can visit me anytime. My family wind me up for missing school days, saying all I do is play football, but they are a great support and my mum and dad, David and Claire, drive me everywhere.
“My granny Jacqueline has brought me to training Monday to Thursday in Jordanstown for the last three years. There was three nights of training a week in Cookstown.”
Patterson, who will continue his education by doing a BTEC in sport, will also cherish his time with Greenisland and the Crues.
“I was a wee Greenisland boy from I was about five-years-old,” he said. “I was happy at Greenisland and I’m really a one-club boy, I don’t like jumping about, but there’s a connection with Crusaders and it was an easy move. Stephen Baxter noticed me when I was playing for the Under-18s and he asked me to join training, it all happened very quickly. One day I was on the bench for the Crues reserves, then I was in the first team. It was all a bit surreal.
“I’ve really developed at Crusaders. With Greenisland, I stayed in my comfort zone but at Crusaders I was playing for higher age groups. I was 14 when I made my reserves debut and was 15 when I played for the first team. I’m a more defensive-minded midfielder and I learned a lot from the Crues players. They all helped me to mature and the most helpful was Robbie Weir. He’s been my mentor. He was in England from a young age for many years and plays in the same position.
“People get asked who you look up to and who do you want to be when you’re older and they say Messi and Ronaldo, but if I end up like Robbie Weir I’ll be very happy.
“I’ll always be grateful to the Irish League and Crusaders for helping me and hopefully it gives other young players encouragement because first-team football does help you develop.”
The Leeds United fan is already a lucky charm for Everton — he was at Goodison for the win over Arsenal in December when Demarai Gray scored a stunning 93rd-minute winner. That was a rare moment of elation for long-suffering Toffees fans last season.
It’s one step at a time for a young player like Patterson but there’s a clear pathway to the senior international side for the cream of the crop.
“International football would be huge for me, I’m a massive Northern Ireland fan. I go to the home games and my dad went to away games with a supporters’ club,” he said.
“That’s been my goal from a young age and just to play five minutes for Northern Ireland at Windsor Park would be a dream but I have to work hard to progress through the age groups at Everton. There is a pathway to the first team and my family would be so proud of me if I played for my country.
“I was with the Under-17s managed by Gerard Lyttle and played a year up with the schoolboys for one game against England.”
Those who have worked with Patterson say he has a real chance of making it in the professional game.
Just like 17-year-old Patrick Kelly, who has left Coleraine for another Premier League side, West Ham, they are entering an exciting new world of possibilities.