Solly March in action for Premier League-bound Brighton
By Adrian Durham – @talkSPORTDrive
Friday, April 21, 2017
talkSPORT Drive and Matchday Live presenter Adrian Durham speaks with a footballer who has the Premier League firmly in his sights.
The scene: 12 December 2015, the Championship, and Brighton’s Solly March in agony on the pitch at Derby County.
Premier League scouts had come to watch him – his form for Chris Hughton’s Seagulls had been excellent up to that point. But his anterior cruciate ligament had snapped, and he faced months out of the first team picture. Happy Christmas.
“When you do it, you’re hoping you’ll be back as soon as possible, but the worst part is worrying you’ll never be the same again.”
As he’s speaking to me, the painful memories are clearly coming back for March.
“Rehab started and I was literally having to learn how to walk again. It was painful and it took me two months before even just taking steps felt right. Some days were really bad but I had my girlfriend, my family, and friends around me who were a big support. The first six months, with the gym work and the physio were the hardest, but once I got out on the pitch again, training, I was positive.”
After the injury, Solly didn’t start another Championship game for over 12 months. His return to the starting XI came in a 3-0 win over QPR this season. He was superb, and Brighton were awesome, outplaying Rangers in every possible way. Solly March was truly back.
And that return culminated in what proved to be the winning goal against Wigan last week as Brighton clinched promotion to the Premier League on Easter Monday. Showing maturity beyond his 22 years, March was hanging back in the box rather than getting excitedly drawn into the melee in the six-yard area; he was cleverly pointing to where he wanted the ball delivered. What happened next was pure class.
As the ball rolled into March’s path, two Wigan defenders charged out to block the shot they expected. March deceived them with a cushioned left foot steering the ball softly away from the flying bodies, giving him time and space to bury the shot with his right foot.
This is why I’m a Solly March fan – this boy can play! But there is more to come.
“I still don’t think I’m quite back to full sharpness after the ACL,” March admitted to me. “You’ll see the very best of me after I’ve had a full pre-season.”
And that means we will see what the real Solly March is all about in the Premier League. “It won’t properly sink in with me that we’re promoted until I see those fixtures, and actually look at the names we’re playing against.”
One game I suspect he will look out for is the first clash with Crystal Palace, not just because it is always a massive grudge fixture between the Eagles and the Seagulls, but also because Palace released him as a 13-year-old boy.
Back home in Hailsham, near Eastbourne, he played for his school. Nearby non-league Lewes then picked him up for their youth system, and at the age of 17 he was offered a trial by Newcastle, offered a contract by Millwall, but chose to sign for Brighton, where his dad Steve had been an apprentice in the 1980s, before playing non-league football. “He was a decent player actually,” Steve’s son assures me.
So after one first team appearance for Lewes, Solly March found himself in the Football League, and is now getting ready to make his mark in the top flight:
“Some of the best defenders in the world are in the Premier League: Azpilicueta is one of them, some of the best full-backs, Rose, Walker. Some amazing players.”
March sees himself as a winger who prefers the right flank but can operate on the left as well, but he also has the self-belief to feel confident he can become a number 10, playing just behind a striker. With his touch and his brain, it’s hard to disagree.
“I’m an attacking player, I like to get on the ball, run at defenders, I love scoring but I’ll take an assist of course. I grew up an Arsenal fan and Thierry Henry was the one, he made the game look easy, gliding past players.”
We chat about one of Henry’s finest games in an Arsenal shirt, an Easter fixture during the ‘Invincibles’ season, when the Gunners were 2-1 down to Liverpool at Highbury at half time, but Henry took control of the second half, famously leaving Jamie Carragher on his backside as he single-handedly led Arsenal to a 4-2 victory.
“Unbelievable,” says March. And then he focuses on how tough next season might be: “I realise we will go from winning pretty much every week to fighting for draws sometimes. In the Premier League, the top seven are a level above everyone else.”
This is a player who knows what Brighton are facing next season, but he also knows what he has been through to get to play with the elite.
March seems confident in his ability in an understated way, making him the kind of character who earns respect far more easily than a cocky young upstart might. Brighton fans love him because he’s good obviously, but also because generally speaking, supporters in this country still hold the local lads that little bit closer to their heart.
He’s an England under-21 international, and wants more.
March is a very good player, a decent lad, and I’m looking forward to seeing him play in the Premier League. I hope he does well.