The following article is reproduced with the permission of Darlington FC.
As far as level-headed young footballers go, you won’t find any more sensible than Dan Burn. The commanding centre-back made a dream move to Premier League club Fulham earlier this year after bursting on to the Quakers scene with just a handful of appearances.
Having attracted the attention of a string of clubs, including Everton, Manchester United and boyhood club Newcastle United, the Blyth-born defender eventually opted for the Londoners, signing a dream three-year contract, after playing just 10 league games last season.
And after recovering from a knee operation in May, just a few days before Darlington’s momentous FA Trophy win at Wembley, Burn is slowly starting to establish himself in Fulham’s reserves side, coached by the former Scotland international Billy McKinlay.
As with all top clubs, Fulham will be keen to nurture Burn, to realise the potential which made them so keen to prise him away from his native North-East.
But they won’t find it difficult in trying to keep his feet on the ground.
Burn, who turned 19 in May, had an option of either getting his own flat near to the club’s training ground in Kingston, South-West London, or moving in with one of the club’s registered landladies.
He opted for the family home in Cheam, a suburban village near Sutton which is just a 10-minute drive from training.
And despite playing seven reserve games for the Cottagers already, Burn is still maintaining a level-headed and realistic outlook.
“The reserves boss Billy McKinlay is very similar to Craig Liddle so I think that’s helped me as well,” says Burn.
“He has loads of experience but he talks to players. He’ll let you know when you’re not doing something that you should be, but he’s constructive with it and that’s why he reminds me of Lidds, who I learned a lot from.
“But I’m realistic in terms of what I want to achieve this season. The first aim is to establish myself in the reserves set-up as best I can. I’m still settling into the club at the moment, so I need to take each step as it comes.
“Sometimes you might think you’re getting closer to the first team, then the gaffer involves you and you realise you’re not ready. It’s such a big step.
“But I’ve just got to make sure I make progress and develop into a player who will one day be ready to make that step.”
Burn admits it took him a few days to get over the initial shock of training with Premier League stars – but is now learning a lot from them every day.
He says: “I had the operation and by the end of May I was back in light training so I was just getting myself prepared for pre-season training.
“Because Fulham were in the Europa League we were back in at the end of June and the new manager wanted everyone together, so I was training with the first team from day one and that was just surreal.
“There I was with players I was used to seeing on the TV, playing with them, tackling them or passing to them, and if I’m honest I was a bit star-struck.
“They tell you to get used to it quickly, and after a few days I was starting to settle into it.
“I get on great with all the younger lads and the reserve players and there’s a couple of the senior pros I find really easy to talk to.
“Clint Dempsey has been great, he’s always prepared to offer good advice, and Aaron Hughes has been good to talk to as well, he has so much experience and a lot to learn from.
“I also talk to Brede Hangeland quite a lot because he plays in my position so it’s good to listen to him, and Danny Murphy is great as well.
“So there’s plenty of the experienced pros in the squad who are always prepared to pass on their advice.
“It’s a really friendly club. I’ve just been made to feel so welcome from the start, which has made things so much easier for me.
“The training has taken some getting used to and I’m sleeping a lot more! I don’t get out a lot because I’m always knackered from training. It’s so intense, I’ll get in from training and sleep until tea time!
“You have to be at your best every day and raise your game but I’m loving the challenge.”
Despite having just had his operation on a torn meniscus, Burn was allowed to join up with the Darlington team for their memorable London trip in May.
“Wembley was just fantastic,” beams Burn. “It didn’t really sink in that I wasn’t going to be involved until the day before. I met up with the lads the night before during a trip to the stadium and it started to dawn on me that I wasn’t going to be part of it the next day, and I was absolutely gutted.
“But the gaffer and the lads made me feel part of it. I joined up with them at the hotel, stayed overnight and travelled with them to Wembley and sat on the bench so I really felt involved and it was the best football experience of my life.
“To win it the way we did was just unbelievable. I’ll always look back at Darlington and I’ll always look out for their results.”
Now he’s hoping to see his former club turn a corner, with his mentor, Craig Liddle, currently in caretaker charge at the club.
Burn said: “I’ve been gutted to see how things have changed.
“To see Mark (Cooper) leave just a few months after becoming a legend just shows how quickly things can change in football.
“But I’m sure the club will bounce back. I hope they do. I keep in touch with a few of the lads, Dusty and Arni, and obviously Lidds.
“I get back up home as much as I can, at least once or twice a month, and recently watched the youth game take on Burton Albion, so it was great to be around the place again and see some familiar faces.”