WHEN Sam Clucas scored on his debut for Hull City last weekend, he knew exactly where he was going to head first.
Parents Dave and Julie had sacrificed so much during his younger days so, on spotting mum and dad sitting with his grandad and girlfriend on the third row of the main stand at the KC Stadium, the summer signing from Chesterfield ran over.
The gesture was very much appreciated, not least because his nearest and dearest complain regularly to Clucas that he rarely even waves to them when lining up ahead of kick-off.
There was, though, one other person who Clucas knew he owed a huge debt to and that was Glenn Hoddle.
So, when he later saw on social media that the former England international had tweeted his own pride at Clucas scoring on his Tigers bow, Clucas’s weekend was complete.
“Glenn helped get my career back on track after I’d had a couple of big disappointments and I’ll always be grateful for that,” said the 24-year-old, who was rejected by Leicester City at the tender age of 16 and then suffered a similar fate after just one Johnstone’s Paint Trophy appearance for Lincoln City two years later.
“Being at the Glenn Hoddle Academy was brilliant and the coaches were unbelievable. There was Glenn out there every day, plus others like Dave Beasant and Graeme Rix.
“Just look at their careers and you appreciate how fortunate I was. I was a bit in awe of their names at first, though I think my dad was even worse when I first went for a trial.
“He came in and said ‘hello’ to Glenn. But I don’t think dad could believe Glenn was sitting there at my trial.”
Hoddle saw enough of Clucas in that trial to offer him a place at his Academy in southern Spain. Set up in 2008, the thinking was to give a second chance to youngsters rejected by English clubs.
So far, it has had several success stories with Watford and Scotland international Ikechi Anya perhaps the most high profile.
Mind, following his debut goal against Huddersfield Town, Clucas is now not far behind with Hoddle tweeting last Saturday night: “He worked so hard at my Academy in Spain. Keep going Sam.”
Clucas added: “Glenn thought young kids were getting released too early and for the wrong reasons. Such as not developing enough when young, which was certainly my case.
“There was nothing I could do about it, I just had to wait for nature to take its course. Glenn helped many careers and got many lads back on the path.
“I have not spoken to Glenn for a while but my girlfriend showed me a tweet he had put out, saying how proud he was that I’d scored my first goal.
“While there, whatever they told me I listened. They were a fountain of knowledge and I was determined to take it all in – and bring it to my own game.
“That was a great learning curve that helped me get where I am now. It got my career back on the right track.
“The Academy took over a team called Jerez Industrial. We played in the fourth division over there, which I would say was equivalent to League Two/Conference over here. A good standard.
“We only took over halfway through the season and the team was struggling at the time. We finished near the bottom but there were only a few English lads who could play.
“There was a limit on how many could play at one time. But it was a great experience and suited how I play football, as everything was on the floor and there were no long balls or anything like that.”
Clucas’s impressive start to life in the Championship continued a meteoric rise since his stint in Spain.
Hereford United, Mansfield Town and then Chesterfield have all been stop-offs for a player who last month cost Steve Bruce a £1.3m transfer fee.
That rise through the divisions has helped banish memories of those early rejections and left the Lincoln-born wideman appreciative of the way his career has bounced back.
“I do sometimes wake up and have to pinch myself, considering where I was four or five years ago,” he said.
“I was at college and couldn’t really get a chance in football so being where I am is a dream come true.
“I do feel I savour it a bit more because of what happened. I came from college and working weekends, and playing football when I could.
“Now, I have the best job in the world. Last Saturday was great, especially being able to celebrate with my mum, dad, grandad and girlfriend.
“They go to every game, to be fair. I wind the lads up a bit because I am always pestering them for tickets.
“But it was great to celebrate right in front of them. I’d looked for them in the warm-up but couldn’t see them. I never usually can. They always moan at me for not waving to them!”
He continued: “As soon as I scored, though, I spotted them three rows back from the front and ran over. I appreciate everything my parents have done, all the sacrifices they made.
“My dad would take time off work to take me to games and driving me all the way to Leicester, three times a week for training and paying out of his own pocket for petrol.
“When I got released by Leicester, all those sacrifices seemed to be for nothing. I had wanted to pay dad back by making the first team at Leicester.
“Now, though, I do feel to have paid him back a little bit because of where I have got to.”