One club hoping for a rather happier new year will be Wokingham & Emmbrook. The Step 5 side have won just 3 of their 18 matches in the Combined Counties League to date this season. The Sumas – who do not pay their players – have found it tough transferring across and up from the Hellenic League Division One East to a division that contains some big-spending sides.
There are signs of hope however under the management of Eliot Whitehouse, who took the reins at Lowther Road on the eve of the season. One such ray of sunshine has been the form of teenager Brandon Curtis, the former Reading FC Academy and Maidenhead United midfielder who has been converted to centre-forward by Whitehouse as the Sumas look to move away from danger at the foot of the Premier Division North.
Curtis has scored four goals this season from fifteen starts and is second top scorer at Wokingham behind James Clark and Jake White who both have five. His record is impressive given his natural instincts as a midfielder thus far in his fledgling career, as he explains: “I like playing as an attacking midfielder. I like the ball into feet and I think I’m good technically, my passing range is also good. I believe I carry the ball well, especially on a one-on-one situation.”
Leaving Reading aged 13, Curtis joined the Maidenhead Academy and featured regularly for the young Magpies side which agonisingly missed out on an Allied Counties Youth League and Cup double in 2018/19. Making 30 appearances and scoring twice, there was some significant consolation for Curtis and his teammates who made club history in reaching the Third Round proper of the FA Youth Cup for the first time ever. Curtis featured in the team which hosted Nottingham Forest’s Academy, in front of 464 spectators at York Road. A late burst of goals gave the visitors a flattering 5-1 win – Alex Mighten, now a regular in the Forest team in the EFL Championship was amongst the scorers – but Curtis and his team-mates repeated the trick the following season, reaching Round Three only to be edged out by the odd goal at Oxford United. Curtis names Magpies Youth Team manager at the time Christian Parker – himself now involved with Woodley United – as one of the biggest influences on his career so far.
Unsurprisingly those prestigious Youth Cup games are amongst the highlights of Brandon’s career so far, reminiscing with Football In Berkshire on “Reaching the FA Youth Cup as far as we did in both seasons and also playing for the first team at York Road against Marlow in front of a good crowd.” That County Cup tie was Curtis’s last appearance for Alan Devonshire’s team before the COVID crisis hit, the youngster having been named on the bench in the previous round against Binfield and again in January 2020 when Maidenhead faced Halesowen in the FA Trophy.
Back to the here-and-now, the self-employed roofer is enjoying developing his game in the thrust of men’s football in the Combined Counties League. Despite being groomed as a midfield player, Curtis is enjoying playing in a forward role at Lowther Road: “It is something I’ve been enjoying. I’m certain I have all the attributes to play as a centre forward and believe I’ve shown that in games this season. I played there at the end of last season and I was very effective there. I think under Eliot and with the right guidance I could become a top centre forward.”
Brandon speaks highly of his manager: “Since Eliot has come in I think he’s lifted the team quite a lot and brought a few more bodies in to strengthen the squad. On a personal note he’s been quite beneficial and made it very clear how he wants us to play – and our individual roles – to get us results. The admiration is mutual, as Whitehouse explains: “Brandon Curtis is a talented young player who possesses a range of technical capabilities. His natural fluidity in possession of a ball is something many players train for years to develop. More recently he’s shown progress in developing his body to cope with the physical demands of Step 5 and his tactical understanding is progressing the more he plays a competitive level of non-league football. With the right combination of nature and nurture to help develop his strengths and weaknesses, Brandon’s football career could take him as far as he wants it go.”
Encouraging words for the locally born youngster, but it hasn’t been plain sailing this season. Against Tadley Calleva in September – having already scored twice in the Sumas only home league win to date this season – Curtis was sent off. He explains: “I jumped up to compete and the player over-reacted. The ref bottled it because they were losing.” Proof that senior football remains a learning curve for a young player but evidence also that this determined and ambitious young footballer is going to compete at this level.