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Kilman's 'surreal' journey from fourth level of non league football to Wolverhampton Wanderers and the Premier League

In just under three years, Max Kilman has gone from playing football in the fourth level of non league football to the Premier League.

It’s been some journey from the portable cabin-like dressing rooms at Oak Tree Road and York Road to playing for Wolverhampton Wanderers and lining up against the best footballers on the face of the planet.

But, despite only being 22, it’s one the former England futsal player is taking in his stride.

Currently on lockdown in central London, Kilman – and the rest of his family - ‘are being driven crazy by his younger brother’, so it’s probably a relief for him to step away from that and focus on what’s been a meteoric rise to the top of the English game.

The Premier League season is far from over, and there’s great uncertainty over when it will resume.

However, that hasn't stopped the former Maidenhead United and Marlow player from contemplating whether Wolves can win silverware in the Europa League or push for a Champions League place.

On the lockdown situation Kilman said: “It’s tough. Having to do your own stuff and following different routines. I think we all just want it to end now so we can get back to playing football.

“The club has given us a program of home workouts, leg exercises and stuff to do. We also go for runs, I’ve got a couple of different ones to do each week. It’s a bit tougher being in London, but this area is quiet. It’s been okay, but we still have to be cautious. Mentally it’s tough, because we still don’t know the day we’ll come back and the season is going to resume. Some days I wonder whether I need to work a bit harder or if I should rest to be a bit fresher.

“We don’t know when the return date is going to be. It could be in May, but it’s not yet 100 per cent and things could change again.

“It’s good to see some teams (in Germany) getting back into training, and you feel like at some stage that will also be the case in England.”

The journey to the Premier League and Champions League contenders Wolves has been a surreal one, Kilman admits. It’s not something he was expecting when he was turning out for the Magpies at York Road just a couple of seasons ago. However, it’s also not something he’s taking for granted and he doesn’t want to make any assumptions over where he’ll be in the future. For now he’s just focused on working hard in training and doing all he can to force his way into Nuno Espirito Santo’s first team.

“I didn’t expect this at all,” he said. “When I was playing there (Maidenhead) I would have never expected to move to a Premier League club like Wolves. It’s just been surreal. I’ve just taken it step by step and have been grafting as much as I can.

“I feel I need to play and train at 100 per cent which is a challenge mentally and physically. But now I feel like I’m getting into the habit of doing that and I feel more confident. I’m still working really hard but I’m doing it better. The staff in the u23s helped me a lot in terms of stepping up to the first team and then one day in training the boss (Espirito Santo) came over and said ‘get ready to come over to our changing room’, but that ‘you’ve still got a lot to learn’. I was then thrown into the first team environment.

“I was training really hard to try and take my chance, but I also wanted to enjoy it and it was really exciting to be playing alongside these players because I’d never expected to be in that position a couple of years ago.”

In his first season after joining from Maidenhead, Kilman finally pulled on the Wolves jersey as a substitute in the final moments of the side's penultimate match against Fulham.

He didn’t touch the ball but that doesn’t stop it from being a major milestone in his blossoming football career. There have been many similar moments since, including a start against Premier League champions elect Liverpool this Christmas.

“My debut was at the end of last season,” he said. “It was home to Fulham in the penultimate match of the season. I only came on for the last minute, but it felt like a massive milestone for me. I didn’t even touch the ball but it was an experience I’ll never forget. It was somewhere I’d always wanted to be and I felt like I’d made a first step towards that.

“My first start came in the Europa League qualifying against Pyunik. It was a full house. A sell out. We were 4-0 up from the first game but it was still a big game. I felt more secure coming into that game. It was a good one for me to make my debut and I’ve taken it game by game since then.

“I felt comfortable and confident that night, but I also felt like I could have done more. It’s your first start so you don’t want to take too many risks.

“I then made my first start in the Premier League against Sheffield United, and that’s probably my next best achievement after making my debut.

“ It was a really tough game against a side that’s intense and works really hard. You couldn’t relax. It was a tough game and although we didn’t quite get the victory (the score was 1-1) I was happy with my own performance and took a few positives from it.

“The game at Anfield was very emotional because of the decisions which went against us. We had a goal disallowed that should have stood. But obviously, for me, playing against Liverpool at Anfield is something you would never have expected but it’s always something I dreamed of doing.

“To play there, and against the players we were up against, makes it an achievement. Seeing the players on your team and their team, the atmosphere in the ground, I just had to embrace it and do my best.”

Despite reaching the dizzying heights of the Premier League, Kilman doesn’t think he’s any more talented than a lot of the players currently plying their trade in non league football.

He was just lucky enough to get the break and has then worked tirelessly to seize that opportunity.

In doing so he thanked former managers Alan Devonshire and Mark Bartley, adding that those he’s played for have all been really good for him.

“All my managers have been really good for me,” he said. “Starting with Mark (Bartley). He’s been great. He helped me adapt to the men’s game. Then Alan Devonshire who helped me achieve so much and helped me to grow as a player.

“The gaffer Nuno has also been great. They’ve all helped me to feel like I can do it myself. They’ve given me the freedom and the mindset to perform at my best.

“There’s definitely a lot of talent in the National League. The difference is decision making. Some National League players are quicker and stronger than in the Premier League but it comes down to their decision making and quality on the ball. If you make a mistake in the Premier League you tend to get punished.

“But the National League is a good one and I’m glad I got to experience it and had a taste of it.”

On his future, Kilman is humble but also ambitious. He added: “There’s still so much to play for. We’re in the last stages of the Europa League and in the Premier League there are still nine games left. If we win as many matches as we can we’ll definitely have a good chance of finishing in the Champions League. We’re also in the latter stages of the Europa League.

“We’ve played the first leg at Olympiakos and got a good draw away. Now it’s just the home leg, so we’ve got a lot to play for.

“I don’t like to think too much about the future. I just take it step by step and week by week. I don’t like to make big plans or assumptions, I just try to take it slowly and keep working hard. But in the last few years I feel like I’ve grown a lot physically, I’m now much quicker and stronger. It’s been a very positive experience.”

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