“It blows your mind, mate.”
Cohen Bramall – Arsenal’s unlikely new recruit – is attempting to sum up a whirlwind few weeks.
One minute the 20-year-old is working at a car plant while playing part-time for Hednesford Town in the Northern Premier League, the next he’s training at a Premier League club.
“I was working in Crewe for Bentley Motors,” he tells BBC Sport.
“I was on the production line, filling up cars with gasses, brake fluid, washer fluid and all that. Day in day out, Monday to Friday, 6.30am until 5.15pm.
“I enjoyed it but when you’re doing those shifts, then training on Tuesday and Thursday, going from Crewe to Birmingham, and playing on Saturday it’s pretty tiring.”
But his busy schedule hit a setback just days before Christmas.
“I got made redundant by Bentley on the Tuesday [20 December], which was crazy because I didn’t know what I was going to do,” he explains.
“I needed a full-time wage coming in, not a part-time wage from Hednesford, so I started thinking of getting a new job.”
The following day, however, his world was turned upside down.
“My agent rings me on the Wednesday saying you’ve got a trial at Arsenal,” Bramall recalls. “I was like ‘what?’ – I was gobsmacked.
“He said pack your stuff and get to this postcode, so I packed all my stuff in about an hour, got there as fast as I could, slept for a bit, then the next minute I’m in training with the first team.
“It was crazy how quick everything happened, how I met everyone and they just took me straight in. I had to take the opportunity with both hands.”
‘If he wasn’t there it wouldn’t have happened’
Crewe-born Bramall started playing semi-professional football for Kidsgrove Athletic as a 17-year-old, and had spells at Newcastle Town, Market Drayton and Nantwich.
He was picked up at Hednesford by then manager Liam McDonald, who has likened Bramall’s story to that of striker Jamie Vardy, who went from non-league to Premier League champion with Leicester in the space of four years.
Crystal Palace and Sheffield Wednesday had both watched the promising left-back closely, but it was Arsenal who agreed terms on the £40,000 deal and made Bramall’s dreams come true.
“Two weeks ago, I played for Sheffield Wednesday in an Under-23s game against Birmingham City,” Bramall says.
“Brian McDermott, one of the scouts at Arsenal came down. He doesn’t really come down to those sort of games, he’s always abroad and looking at the next star. If he wasn’t there it wouldn’t have happened.
“I would tell the whole of non-league to just keep believing and keep working hard. If you don’t work hard it’s not coming. You need to work hard, you need to put 110% into it and believe in yourself, stay confident, stay humble and keep going.”
On training at Arsenal and one-twos with Sanchez
“I came up to Arsenal, I get my kit, I get ready and I’m expecting to go out with the Under-23s, but I was training with the first team,” he recalls.
“It was insane. You see people on social media, you see them on Match of the Day, then you see them in real life and your heart’s pounding. It was crazy.
“Danny Welbeck, Chuba Akpom, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain – all top guys who are dead welcoming and they knew my name. I was gobsmacked. I was so happy that they knew my name and honoured to play against those players. It was just a dream come true.
“I think the first one-two I did was with Alexis Sanchez.”
On meeting Arsene Wenger
“It wasn’t really a conversation, it was a quick shake of the hand. A ‘Hi, nice to meet you, Cohen’ and a quick chuckle, really,” he says.
“It was unbelievable seeing him. One of the top, top managers in the world. You see him on TV a lot, then you see him face-to-face and it’s ‘wow’. It blows your mind, mate.
“It was two days of training, a quick two-day session with the first-team and then we just spoke about what’s going to happening next.
“I haven’t even had time to reflect on what’s really happened. It hasn’t even hit me where I am.
“I just need to forget who I train with and work on me, my personality, my body and mentality. I know I’m around with the stars but I need to do the best I can and try and not get trapped in that frame of mind where I’m with all the big dogs.
“It’s an honour to play with them but I need to do what’s best for me.”
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