‘A wow moment’: Eggleton excited for Charlton return with Coalville Town

The television in the club house at Coalville Town was tuned into BBC2 and all eyes were on Alan Smith and Dion Dublin as they prepared to make the draw for the first round of the FA Cup.

“We were No 61 and Charlton were No 11,” says Jake Eggleton, recalling that Monday night last month. “When No 11 came out and we waited to see who’d they play, all I could think was: ‘Let it be 61, it’s got to be 61.’ When it was us, the whole place went mental. It was a wow moment. It felt fantastic, unbelievable, amazing.”

As a lifelong Charlton fan, the Coalville defender had even more reason than most to celebrate a draw which will transport his seventh-tier, Leicestershire-based team to The Valley on Saturday.

“After the draw my mum said she just knew we’d get Charlton,” says Eggleton. “She said she just felt it was meant to be. But it also means that, for the first time, she and dad are going to be in the away end at The Valley.”

As a boy growing up in north Kent, Eggleton, now 24, belonged to a family of Charlton season-ticket holders and was part of the club’s academy until his release at the age of eight. “But I kept my season ticket,” he says. “Even now, I’m still a massive fan. Charlton’s is the first result I look out for and I go and watch them whenever I can. If they’re playing in the Midlands and Coalville haven’t got a game, I’ll be there.”

A boy who grew up idolising two Charlton strikers, first Darren Bent and then Yann Kermorgant, soon moved on to West Ham, doing so well that on 2 May 2015 he walked on to the Upton Park pitch at half time in a Premier League win against Burnley to sign a scholarship contract.

One of the fellow academy prodigies next to Eggleton in photographs commemorating that landmark afternoon was Declan Rice. “I played alongside Declan in the Under-18s,” says Eggleton, who would be released by the club two years later. “I haven’t kept in touch with him so much but I’ve still got friends at West Ham.

“Being there was a really good experience. I had a fantastic time, so leaving was hard. It had been a big part of my life for 10 years and, for a while, not being at West Ham any more was very difficult. For a period of about a year I fell out of love with football.”

After stints with non-league Hendon and then Hampton and Richmond Borough he began preparing for an alternative career and headed to Loughborough University, completing a degree in sport and exercise science this summer before immediately embarking on a Masters in strength and conditioning.

“Sports science gives you a lot of options, both within football and outside it,” says Eggleton. “Coming to Loughborough was one of the best decisions I’ve made.”

During that initial degree course he started playing for the university’s first XI and the qualities that had propelled him to Under-21 level at West Ham soon ensured he swiftly caught the eye of local scouts.

“We played Coalville in pre-season and afterwards the manager [Adam Stevens] asked me if I’d like to sign for him and I’ve been here ever since,” says the centre-back who is also comfortable at right-back. “It’s been really good. There’s a great sense of community. After games, we all go and have a few drinks with the supporters in the club house. It’s been really nice to be able to get to know them.”

Semi-professional Coalville are one of several teams pushing for promotion from the Southern League Premier Division Central but a team who train two evenings a week emphasised their potential by winning 3-2 at fifth-tier Notts County in the fourth qualifying round last month.

The reward was a trip to League One Charlton where about 2,000 Ravens fans – Coalville’s nickname derives from their origin in 1926 as Ravenstone Miners’ Athletic – are expected to congregate at The Valley for their side’s first appearance in the first round for 18 years.

In November 2004, Coalville were widely regarded as somewhat unlucky to lose at Wycombe but Eggleton is not alone in believing that Saturday’s tie against a former Premier League side at a famous 27,000-capacity stadium represents a somewhat bigger deal.

There is also the reality that a defender cheered on by a sizeable contingent of family and friends will be back in the shop window. “If I got an opportunity to play professionally I’d definitely give it a go,” he says. “But I’m not thinking about that at the moment. I just want to make the very most of Saturday’s opportunity.

“I want to be sure I take it all in … and do my best to help Coalville play as well as we know we can. It’s going to be really exciting.”