When Dean Cox was a Cuckfield Cosmos youth footballer playing at Whiteman’s Green, the thought of scoring at Wembley was a galaxy away.
But he went on to prove dreams can come true when the Haywards Heath man ran out at the home of football for Leyton Orient.
And the 27-year-old hopes his story will inspire the children of today that playing in the Mid Sussex Youth & Minor League to follow in his footsteps.
The former Oathall pupil will never forget where it all started and how he was spotted to play for Brighton & Hove Albion schoolboys at the age of 13 while playing for the local village youth team.
Cox, who has made more than 400 pro appearances, said: “When I was at Cosmos I got a letter through the door, just saying would you like to come for a trial.
“I couldn’t believe it. From then on I haven’t looked back.
“I’d like to thank Cosmos for allowing me to go. I used to play for Brighton on the Sunday morning at Ardingly College, then at 11 o’clock rush over to Whiteman’s Green to play the second half for Cosmos. They gave me the kit so I could change in the car and run straight on to the pitch.”
Steve Jones and Richard Young, his managers at Cosmos, have fond memories of Dean.
Jones said: “He loved playing for the club and I remember there were a few tears shed when he got the call from Brighton, as he knew if he wanted the chance to progress he wouldn’t be playing with his mates anymore.
“He was always a winner and never gave up, no matter what the score was.”
Cox has enjoyed the highs and lows of football - and in one day!
He scored at Wembley to put Orient 2-0 up against Rotherham in the League One play-off final in May 2014.
But he would go on to suffer the heartache of seeing his side lose on penalties.
He said: “To get to Wembley was fantastic although what happened was sad.
“The best thing was some of my lifelong friends came to see me in the play-off final. To go from Whiteman’s Green to playing at Wembley and then seeing them in the crowd was a bit surreal.
“Those memories you won’t forget.”
Cox knows he would not be where he is today without the support of his dad Steve and mum Beverley.
He added: “I think from a parents’ point of view you have got to be dedicated in taking your child to training and match days.
“My dad used to take half days off work. Monday and Tuesday we used to train at Falmer then on Thursday we would be training in Worthing. So you need parents who can help. Without my dad I would not be able to go to training sessions.”
The winger emphasises the importance of making sacrifices as a teenager in order to achieve your ambitions.
He explained: “As a player, dedication is important. You may have to lose some friends along the way especially when you are around 16.
“Some kids want to go off and gallivant, but if you want your dreams to come true you have to make sacrifices.
“If they are real friends they will stick with you no matter what. On a Friday night you can’t go out and hang around the streets. I used to do that, don’t get me wrong.
“But from 16 you have to be really disciplined. I never expected to be a professional footballer, that’s the best thing about it.
“To play for Cuckfield Cosmos was enough but to go on to what I have is a dream come true.
“From a playing side when you are young, enjoy it as much as you can, work as hard as you can. I’m a firm believer if you are good enough you will get a chance.”
Dean is looking forward to getting married to Hannah later this year and starting a family - and he knows which team he wants a new addition to play for.
He said: “First port of call will be Cuckfield Cosmos.”
John Edwards, Mid Sussex Youth & Minor League Secretary, added: “We are extremely proud to see Dean have such successful career after starting out in our league and we look forward to seeing him at future league events.”