Patience pays off for Luke Wilkinson at Dagenham & Redbridge
Luke Wilkinson is finally getting the recognition his talents deserve after a frustrating end to his footballing apprenticeship.
The 22-year-old, who first got into the sport when he joined Wells City's under-11 side more than a decade ago, refused to let disappointments get the better of him in his bid to join the professional ranks, with the centre-back now an integral part of npower League 2 side Dagenham & Redbridge.
After impressing for the Blues, Bristol City were quick to recruit him as a 12-year-old, where 24 goals in his first year at Ashton Gate saw the club keen to keep hold of him until the age of 16.
Wilkinson was then offered an apprenticeship with the club's academy, where he made a huge impact as a central defender, including one standout display against Chelsea striker and England international Daniel Sturridge in an FA Youth Cup quarter-final against Manchester City.
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It therefore came as a huge surprise when Bristol City decided to release the talented defender but that disappointment was quickly quelled when then Premier League side Portsmouth snapped him up.
His arrival coincided with the start of Pompey's financial woes, however, and Wilkinson failed to make a league appearance before being sent out on several loan spells.
After being released by Portsmouth in 2010, Dagenham were quick to offer him a contract, where two further seasons out on loan have served him well on the road to the club's first team.
"I was really disappointed not to be offered a full professional contract with Bristol City," said Wilkinson.
"I went into a meeting with the academy coaches and they just told me they were not going to offer me a contract, which was a horrible thing to hear.
"I knew I had to remain positive and I was picked up by Portsmouth.
"Unfortunately, they went into financial turmoil shortly after I joined and eventually I was offered a contract by Dagenham & Redbridge, which I took up as all I wanted to do was to play football.
"Once I signed I was immediately loaned out to Boreham Wood and then Dartford, who were playing in Conference South.
"After Dartford were promoted last season, [Daggers boss] John Still decided the time was right to get me back."
Wilkinson made his Football League debut as a substitute against AFC Wimbledon on September 1 and has since become a regular, bagging four goals in the process.
Dagenham currently sit in mid-table in League 2 but the play-offs are well within reach.
Having already had a taste of Premier League action in his career, Wilkinson is determined to return to as high a standard as possible – although ideally with the club who have shown so much faith in him.
"I would like to play as high up the League as I can, but preferably with Dagenham & Redbridge," said Wilkinson.
"It's all in my own hands really and the first thing I have to do is to persuade the club to believe I am good enough to earn another contract when my present one runs out at the end of the season."