Long Read: Dobbin Seizing The Moment

After netting an addictively satisfying maiden senior strike for Everton, Lewis Dobbin sat down with the Official Matchday Programme to reflect on that moment, the long journey that preceded it, his key influences and how manager Sean Dyche is helping him thrive in top-level football...

It was one of those goals.

Goals have long kept football fans coming back for more, even in the most challenging, seemingly hopeless, times - but moments like the one Lewis Dobbin produced at the climax of Everton’s 2-0 home win over Chelsea earlier this month live longer in the memory than most.

The fact it was the Academy graduate’s maiden Senior Team goal; the nature of the sweetly-struck left-footed drive following a half-cleared corner; the timing of the blow to seal a hard-fought victory over an extravagantly-assembled Chelsea side; and, of course, the context of it being Sean Dyche’s side’s third win in the space of eight days to reinforce the feelings of positivity and defiance emanating from Goodison Park.

From Dobbin’s perspective, it was the culmination of more than a decade of hard work.

“I was waiting to come on for what felt like forever!” he recalls. “The ball went out a few times but I had to wait because we were defending set pieces, so then to finally get on was good - it just couldn’t come quick enough for me.

“Of course, you want to come on and make an impact on the game. I know when my chances come around that I have to take them.

“I remember the keeper punching it and it fell perfect for me, even if it was on my left foot… I kept it down well, it hit the back of the net and the rest is a bit of a blur, to be honest. 

“I’ve never experienced a feeling like that in my life. 

“You don’t think about anything, you just live in that moment and watching it back, the best thing for me is seeing the reaction of my teammates. I think every single player came over to celebrate, then I got two-footed by Amadou by mistake and piled on! But it was a great moment, one I’ll never forget.”

The reaction of his teammates illustrated just how highly the group rates Dobbin as a person and as a promising young player.

Now a permanent part of Everton’s Senior Team dressing room - following a loan spell at League One outfit Derby County, where he produced 11 goal contributions in 54 appearances - the Blues’ number 61 is closest to similarly-aged Nathan Patterson and James Garner.

But the bond between all players in Dyche’s squad has grown exponentially in recent months - and Dobbin is relishing the opportunity to be part of it.

“It’s an amazing group to be part of,” explains the forward, who turns 21 next month. “It does genuinely feel like a family here now. The bond in the changing room is amazing, the best I’ve ever seen. 

“It’s nice to think that I’ve been accepted as a person and as a player by them. Hopefully it continues.

“The vibes were unbelievable after the Chelsea game! I got swarmed as soon as I came back into the changing rooms, headlocks, I got my hair messed up and all that! 

“We had our Christmas meal afterwards as well so everyone was pumped for that. It was just a great feeling. 

“It was nice to go out for a meal with all the lads and get to know them on a deeper level. It’s a good way to make the bond we’ve got even stronger than it already is. It makes us grow stronger as a squad and a family. It’s good to take that feeling into games because you can see how much it means to us all.”

After sharing an emotional moment with older sister, Sophie, who was in attendance at Goodison Park to witness her brother’s first-ever Premier League strike, the congratulatory messages continued to flow relentlessly online for days afterwards.

Eagle-eyed Evertonians spotted one from Real Madrid midfielder Jude Bellingham, who Dobbin counts as an inspiration, as well as a former teammate.

“I played with Jude from the age of 14 until I was around 16 or 17 - he was our England captain,” Dobbin reveals. “He messaged me individually as well, so it’s nice to stay in touch with him and it shows the kind of guy he is because he is absolutely smashing it at the minute. 

“He’s an inspiration to a lot of players in our generation. 

“A lot of people got in touch and the reaction of everyone was crazy and humbling as well. 

“Evertonians are unbelievable. They have always been good with me over the past few years but the reaction after the goal against Chelsea was crazy. I’m just extremely thankful and grateful to them. It just makes me want more and to contribute to a team they can be proud of.”

It would be easy to assume, like many young footballers, that Dobbin fell in love with the game having been thrust into it by a parent or sibling - but that is not the case.

His father, a huge fan of music, held no interest, neither did his mother or sister.

Dobbin himself took some convincing in the beginning.

“My dad has been a massive influence on me, I can’t express my gratitude to him enough - for a guy who doesn’t even like football, he’s amazing,” he explains. “The number of miles he’s done up and down motorways across the country to watch me is off the scale and, of course, him, my mum and sister have always been extremely supportive.

“But football, for me, started with my uncle. When I was really young and first started to play, apparently I just wanted to quit straight away but then my uncle started taking me back to training and saw I was alright - and it went from there.”

At just six years old, Dobbin’s natural ability sparked a clamour from clubs across the country.

A host of Midlands teams close to his family home in Stoke were in touch, as well as some based in the south, while, up in the north west, he trained with Manchester United and Everton.

“I was actually here at Everton at the age of six, I trained but I never actually signed,” says Dobbin. “I was playing for about six teams at the time, including my local team, but I ended up signing for Stoke - as a Stoke-born lad it was much easier logistically for me - and I played for them until the age of 11. 

“Everton got back in touch with me at that point and I remember thinking, ’That is where I want to be’, so it ended up happening really quickly.”

The Blues’ renowned Academy recruitment team were proved right to maintain their interest, as Dobbin continued to go from strength to strength at Finch Farm, despite keeping his roots in Stoke.

“When you’re 16, most of the lads go to the Club’s affiliated high school but I stayed at home and left my local school early to come and train here every day,” says Dobbin. “It was good for me because when I go home now I’m still really close to my best mates who I grew up with. It’s been a good mix.

“The Academy was incredible for me. There are a lot of people who have had big influences on me because I’ve had so many coaches through the age groups, I couldn’t name just one. 

“Colin Littlejohns was one of my favourite coaches and helped me a lot, Phil Jevons is another one who was very good with me one-on-one and helped me with a lot of the smaller details in terms of what it takes to be a forward at the top level, and then Paul Tait as well. Taity is a great coach and I think he got two of my best years out of me that really helped me push on towards senior football. 

“I could name so many more, though, and not just coaches - people like the drivers who used to pick me up from Stoke and bring me all the way into training. 

“I’m really grateful to everyone who has been there for me and helped me along the way.”

The biggest leap of all lies between Under-21 and senior football.

It is a transition Dobbin says has been aided significantly by Under-21s Head Coach Paul Tait and the Club’s decision to send him out on loan to Derby County last year.

“Without being at all disrespectful, [Academy football] is a different game to senior football, especially at the top level,” insists Dobbin. “I feel like I see things quicker now and I’m used to a quicker pace of the game.

“Taity, as I mentioned, then the loan at Derby was huge for my development. Just being in a first-team environment and having that intense pressure to perform every week or twice a week is a different feeling. You mature naturally and you pick up a lot of things - on and off the pitch - that you need to be better at to succeed, so it was a really big help for me.

“But I believe you can always improve everything. In recent years, I’ve been playing in a lot of different positions and the thing I’ve learned most is how switched on you need to be defensively. Obviously, it’s not attackers’ favourite thing to do but it’s a big part of the game and I think I’ve come on a lot in that respect, in terms of my work-rate and how I help the team defensively.

“There is always work to be done and things to get better at.”

Lewis Dobbin
"It does genuinely feel like a family here now. The bond in the changing room is amazing, the best I've ever seen. It's nice to think that I've been accepted as a person and as a player."

Reporting back to Everton for pre-season this summer, impressing manager Dyche was always the primary goal.

“It was in the back of my mind [going out on loan again this season] because you need to be planning for your future,” admits Dobbin. “But when I sat down with my dad before pre-season, I told him I didn’t want to think about loans, because I just wanted to come in and have a really strong pre-season because, obviously, the end goal was always to be playing here. 

“I wanted to impress and try to get a chance in the squad, which has ended up happening. There were a couple of conversations about loans but come the end of pre-season and speaking to the Club, I think everyone was happy for me to stay here to fight for my chance.”

A gruelling yet productive training camp in Lake Geneva set the foundations required to be part of Dyche’s plans before opportunities to impress were presented in subsequent pre-season friendlies.

Those chances were grasped with both hands and, now a permanent member of the Senior Team squad, Dobbin is thriving off the confidence shown in him by Dyche and his backroom staff.

“The manager has definitely given me a lot confidence,” Dobbin reflects. “He’s really helped me. He helps simplify the game down to what you need to know, and he helps you nail the basics. If you do that, put it all together and do it with confidence, it becomes really difficult to play against.

“We had a couple of chats over the summer but most of it was around smaller details when we’re out of possession that helps with the way he wants to play. It was some tactical stuff, in terms of what he wants me to do when we haven’t got the ball, where he wants me to be - for example, if I’m playing out wide, where I need to be if the ball is on the opposite side. It would be a case of working on those things on the training pitch and through showing me clips. He is always trying to help me. 

“In possession, his message has been, ‘Keep doing what you’re doing’, he wants us to have some freedom in attack and, obviously, focus on creating chances and scoring goals.

“It’s a great feeling knowing the manager has that confidence in me and that only gives you more motivation to go and perform - to prove him that he’s right to have that confidence. Obviously, I’m surrounded by really good players every day so I’m learning all the time, even when I’m not playing. It’s up to me to keep a positive attitude, keep picking up things from them and keep pushing them for the good of the team and the Club.”

The chance to be learning from a number of senior top-level players is one Dobbin is savouring, and the challenge he now faces as he bids to further establish himself at this level is one he is facing head on.

“I love Everton,” he reflects. “This club is all I’ve known all of my life, really. It means a lot to me and to be able to have these chances and to score in front of a full Goodison, having been watching games here since the age of 11, is something I’ve been dreaming about for a long time. 

“Now I’ve lived it, just want to do it again and again and again.

“It’s a challenge to stay sharp because no matter how hard you work - and we do - training is never the same intensity as you would experience in a game, but it is up to me to make sure I am always ready. And I will be.”