As a 16-year-old, Stephen Kingsley was happy to simply get on the pitch at Falkirk. These days he is sharing it with world-renowned stars.
The Scotland Under-21 player didn’t even get a touch of the ball when he made that first appearance, in a First Division match, but it gave him something to build from.
“It was Partick Thistle away. I had just turned 16. I remember Steven Pressley [who was Falkirk manager at the time] told me to go and get warmed up. There was about a minute left of added time, I remember the ball went out for a goal kick and I’ve literally got ready, the boy’s come off and I’ve run into the centre circle. Then the keeper’s kicked it and the whistle blew! I couldn’t care to be honest. I was absolutely delighted. You couldn’t get the smile off my face. It was funny but that’s where it started. Brilliant.”
These days the joy is not simply that he is in the team, it is in the company he is keeping, as Swansea mix it with the Premier League elite. Having headed south in the summer of 2014, he had to bide his time, on loan at Yeovil and then Crewe before being given his first outing at the start of this year, in the FA Cup, in January, and following it up with a dream win over Arsenal a couple of months later.
Since then the opportunities to pit his skills against top quality players have come thick and fast.
“There have been a few. I would say that Arsenal were up there but there’s been Man City with [Jesus] Navas and [Sergio] Aguero and [Dimitri] Payet for West Ham and [Riyad] Mahrez at the weekend. It is weird saying the names but at the time you don’t think about it, you are just playing and doing what you have prepared for all week. But when you look back it is an amazing experience to be playing against all these big names.”
The start to the new season has been a pleasing one, with the young Scot starting in every one of the Welsh club’s three league games thus far and despite two defeats, against defending champions Leicester City and Hull City, and only one win coming on the opening day, Kingsley is happy with the part he has played.
“Personally, it has been positive for me. The last two games have been disappointing, in terms of the result, but it has been a great experience to be playing and I feel like I’ve done well in those games. Hopefully the results can come our way. It was my aim to be playing. Obviously Tayl [Neil Taylor] was away at the Euros, so I knew it would be a massive pre-season for me to stake a claim. I’ve worked really hard in the off-season and got a bit of time with the [Scotland] A squad. It is what I have been striving for.
“I have had first-team experience with Falkirk before but this is a different level. I have been okay with the pressure, it was more the games last season – a debut at the Emirates and West Ham – that the nerves set in and it was about getting through that. Now I am in more of a rhythm and it’s about trying to hold on to that left-back spot. It engulfs you when you first come into the team but now I am feeling a bit more comfortable in trying to show people what I can do.
“To be told I was starting at the Emirates was surreal. To be honest, it was a bit of a blur, but an incredible experience. It was Joel Campbell to start with, who was swapping with Alexis Sanchez, then Theo Walcott came on. For me it was just a case of ‘get through it, do the best I can’. Thankfully I had a good game, and the scoreline... we won 2-1! Amazing. That was the highlight so far but hopefully there will be bigger and better things to come.”
Included in Ricky Sbragia’s Under-21 squad for the double-header against Macedonia and then Ukraine, he said the taste of top team football, in the summer friendlies, has given him the incentive to convince Scotland boss Gordon Strachan he merits that promotion on a permanent basis.
“Having the experience of the first team and being on the bench against Italy was great. Even though I never got on. The training and meeting all the boys was great. To get on and play against France, probably one of the best, if not the best, team at the Euros, with probably some of the best players in the world at the moment, it makes you want to get more caps. That’s where you want to be.”
The fact he is plying his trade in one of the most competitive positions has only galvanised his resolve.
“It is something I don’t worry about, it just makes me want to strive to get better and get in that squad. Obviously, having guys like Kieran Tierney and Robbo [Andy Robertson], it is three young left-backs and as we get older we will keep pushing ourselves to get better and if I do that and can keep proving myself at Swansea then hopefully that will take me there. It is exciting to see what happens in the future.”