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Tom Carlton: The ‘forgotten face’ in that Chelsea throwback photo

Chelsea shared a nostalgic picture from 2010 featuring Christian Pulisic and Mason Mount, two names that are now pretty big deals in European football.

Yet, amidst the excitement and reminiscence, there was a lingering question: who was the third figure, the ginger lad smiling alongside the now-famous duo?

Enter Tom Carlton, a name that might not ring familiar to most.

Mason Mount (left), Christian Pulisic (middle) and Tom Carlton (right)

Carlton, who was last seen as a part-time player for Tunbridge Wells FC in the Southern Counties League Premier Division, holds a tale of aspirations, trials, and the stark realities of the footballing world.

Reflecting on the shared photo, Carlton recalls the days when he, Pulisic, and Mount were just young lads with dreams, all donning the ‘T’ of a trialist on their kits during a fleeting moment at Chelsea’s academy.

“When you’re that age, we’re all the same really – anyone could make it,” Carlton reflects, offering a glimpse into the excitement surrounding youth football.

However, the path to footballing stardom isn’t always paved with success stories. After eight years at Chelsea, Carlton’s journey took an unexpected turn when he, alongside Declan Rice, was released from the academy at the tender age of 14.

The trio, once close-knit on the training grounds, found themselves facing diverging paths.

Tom Carlton pictured playing for Herne Bay FC

Following his departure from Chelsea, Carlton’s quest for a professional career led him to West Ham’s academy, only to be met with another setback two years later.

Despite the hurdles, Carlton persisted, making stops at Colchester United before finding his most recent home at Tunbridge Wells FC in 2022.

As he watches Pulisic and Mount shine on the grandest stages of football, Carlton admits to grappling with a bittersweet reality.

“People don’t understand that, but I’ve been with them and it could have been me,” he confides, shedding light on the unspoken struggles of those who narrowly miss the spotlight.