If Hull City can continue to set the pace in this season’s Championship, Sam Clucas could be just a few months away from writing one of football’s truly inspirational stories.
Cast aside as a youngster for being deemed “too small”, the 25-year-old refused to take no for an answer.
Even a later rejection from hometown club Lincoln City after he had filled out could not deflect Clucas, who battled his way back up through the leagues via Hereford, Mansfield and Chesterfield before last summer joining the Tigers for £1.3m.
Now, he stands on the verge of a possible promotion to the top flight of English football – a prospect he admits would be “a dream come true”.
Whether Hull can prevail in the race for the promised land remains to be seen.
But if the East Riding club are hosting Premier League football again come August, one thing is for sure – Clucas is not the type to get carried away and let success go to his head.
“I try not to think about what promotion would mean,” said Clucas to The Yorkshire Post ahead of today’s eagerly-anticipated trip to Burnley.
“But then I keep looking at the table and it is hard.
“Even when we had no (league) games (recently due to the FA Cup), I still found myself glancing at the table to see if it had changed.
“People at home also keep telling me, ‘You are top of the league’. So, it is difficult to ignore.
“Most of the lads here have a promotion on their CV. I haven’t got that, and the best promotion to get is to the Premier league.
“From where I have come from, it would be an unbelievable achievement. To go up four leagues in four years, I would love to make the dream come true of playing in the Premier League.”
Clucas’s move to Hull and the Championship brought the bonus of a boot sponsorship deal. Previously he had bought his own. It also brought a raised profile for a player who has started all but one of Hull’s 28 league games this term. Otherwise, however, nothing has changed for this most grounded of individuals.
“Life is the same no matter where I end up playing,” he said. “I came up the hard way and that makes you appreciate it more. That is down to my family and friends, all making sure I don’t get too big time at home. They give me a slap round the face if I do.
“I am not going to go out and buy a Ferrari. Or a 10-bedroom house. I don’t need one.
“Anyway, I don’t like change. I drive the same car as I did at Chesterfield, a BMW 1 series. I turn up in the car park here and everyone else has Range Rovers. Even the physio has a better car than me.”
Pressed on whether he will be tempted to upgrade his car if Hull can finish the job this term, Clucas laughed before adding: “Maybe I might treat myself if we win promotion.
“One of my mates actually works in a car showroom. It is where I got my car from and maybe he can get me a discount. But let’s see how the season goes first. No one here is resting on their laurels.”
A solid circle of friends and family will have undoubtedly helped form such a level-headed attitude. So, too, must those days when his football dream appeared to have died following rejections from Leicester City and MK Dons, and his part-time job involved cleaning tables in the cafe of his local Debenhams.
Those days are firmly behind Clucas as he prepares for today’s trip to Turf Moor.
“We are in a great position as a club,” he added. “I think the league table shows that and everyone around the club is buzzing. But we are not resting on our laurels.
“We had a good January (with four straight wins in the league). But now it is all about this month and kicking on.”
Hull’s win at Fulham a fortnight ago was enough to return Steve Bruce’s men to the top of the table for the first time in a little over two months.
That previous spell at the summit lasted just three weeks, a fortnight of which was the November international break, to leave Clucas admitting it is hard to gauge what difference being the side to be shot at can make to the club.
“I couldn’t tell you if the pressure is different for being top because I have never been here before,” said the winger. “Though it is a good place to be.
“Maybe pressure changes for some, it depends how you take it. Individuals might look at the league table and think, ‘How is this or that team doing?’ But we have to concentrate on ourselves. If we put the points on the board, it is up to others to catch us.”
Hull’s rise to the summit has come during difficult periods for their rivals. Derby, for instance, have not won in six league outings, while Middlesbrough have lost their last two.
“Everyone has a bad patch,” said Clucas when asked about the promotion race. “We had one a couple of months ago.
“The gaffer had us in on Sundays and things like that, even though we were still three points behind Brighton who hadn’t lost a game at that point.
“What I mean is there are ups and downs for every team. There will be ups for all the others and we just have to try and keep our own lows to a minimum.
“Burnley are one of our big rivals so this is a massive game. But we go there full of confidence and, with the form Abel (Hernandez) is in, I wouldn’t put it past him scoring another hat-trick.
“I certainly wouldn’t swap Abel for anyone else in the Championship. Burnley are on a good run of form and it won’t be easy. But if we beat them, we can go seven points clear with a game in hand. That would be a big gap to try and build on.”