Reece Oxford made West Ham United history when he stepped onto the Boleyn Ground turf on Thursday 2 July 2015.
While most 16-year-olds were studying for exams at school or college that summer, he was becoming the Hammers’ youngest-ever player.
Oxford was just 16 years and 198 days old when he was handed his first-team debut by new manager Slaven Bilic in a 3-0 UEFA Europa League first qualifying round first leg tie win over Andorran side Lusitanos at a sold-out Boleyn Ground.
As he prepares to continue his career in Germany with Bundesliga club Augsburg, the Academy of Football graduate reflected on that memorable evening in the east London sunshine.
I was happy to make my debut in the Europa League, then go on to make my debut in the Premier League as the youngest player for West Ham
“It was a bit mind-blowing for me!” he recalled. “I was with the first-team a bit when I was 15 and had made a bench appearance in the League Cup the previous year then, when I turned 16, the manager said: ‘You’re in the first-team changing room now, so work for your spot’.
“I did well in pre-season and we had the Europa League and he said ‘You’re playing’. I was a bit nervous as I was doing my GSCEs at the same time, so it was a case of juggling school and football!
“Like I said, it was mind-blowing and I was happy to make my debut in the Europa League, then go on to make my debut in the Premier League as the youngest player for West Ham.”
Aged just 16 years and 237 days, he became West Ham’s youngest-ever Premier League player and the second-youngest starter in the competition’s history.
With Oxford anchoring the midfield, the Irons secured a sensational 2-0 victory at Emirates Stadium. At the final whistle, the teenager was named Man of the Match.
“I remember the day before the game when the manager set up the team and I was going out for training and I saw the team and I thought ‘I can’t be playing!’,” he smiled.
“Then Mark Noble came up to me and asked me if I’d ever played in the Emirates and I realised I was playing. I went back to the hotel that night and watched loads of clips of the whole Arsenal team and then, when I got in the tunnel, I just blocked it all out and played it like any other game of football.
“Slaven had a lot of belief in me from when he first saw me, so I give big respect to him and thank him for what he did for my career.
“The education I’ve received at West Ham has set me up and I’ve been around players like Nobes since I was 15, so I’ve learnt a lot and I’ll never forget it.”