YOU had to feel sorry for the lad.
His Boston United career hadn’t even got going and you could fear the worst.
The date was August 6, 2011, and Boston United had been beaten 4-3 in a pre-season friendly by Lincoln City.
The Pilgrims were second best that game, but one fledgling defender had the sort of day that was so bad even Frank Spencer would point and laugh.
That lad was Tom Ward, and his afternoon saw him receive constant earbashings from goalkeeper Paul Bastock and defender Kevin Austin as he was run ragged by the full-timers’ attack, and blamed for three of the conceded goals.
The Imps’ first goal was a quickly-taken free kick, after the defender had needlessly tugged Simon Russell to the floor.
In a competitive match he would have been sent off. For what was about to follow, he probably wished he had.
Nothing was going right for him, and goal number two came as Kevin Austin’s clearance smashed against Ward’s back and fell invitingly for Gavin McCallum. The third saw Alan Power fire home after comfortably getting goalside of the inexperienced youngster.
Like the new kid at school, he looked lost and alone as his peers vented their frustration in his direction.
Now, I’ve referenced this appearance before and Ward could be allowed to believe I’m using it as a stick to beat him with.
The truth is the exact opposite. This game stands out so much as it was a rare occasion where Ward, newly promoted from the reserves, struggled to meet expectations.
Afterwards, manager Lee Canoville publicly backed the defender, stating the youngster needed time to adapt.
And look at him now.
Two goals in two games, both of them clean sheets, and Ward’s mantelpiece suddenly has a bit of glass on it with the words Blue Square Bet North Player of the Month engraved on the front.
You’ve got to hand it to him. After a game when many would have thought ‘I don’t need this’ he refused to call it quits or skulk back to the reserves.
He returned. He learned and has become twice the player he was at the start of the season.
Ward deserves the plaudits that come with his accolade, not only for his sticking to his task, but also for his appearances last month.
But the adulation should also be shared with his teammates and managers. Together, they all improved on the pitch last month. Ward couldn’t win such an award if he didn’t have decent players around him, offering education and support, allowing him to play his best game.
Ward’s gong is fully deserved, but he was brought back down to Earth with a thud on Saturday as he, Nathan Stainfield and Conor Marshall - youngsters in a defence that was breached three times at Worcester - realised they haven’t quite learned it all yet.
Reaching such a level is tough, and Ward did it the hard way. But now the toughest task is to hold parity before kicking on and becoming an even better player.
That pre-season match against Lincoln is only seven months ago. On the pitch, Tom Ward is already light years better.