Joe Noakes is just 90 minutes away from realising his dream of becoming a professional footballer as he prepares for the biggest game of his life.
The 18-year-old from Farlington has come through a lengthy process and seen off around 5,000 other wannabe footballers in Samsung’s nationwide Win A Pro Contract competition – with a deal at Swindon Town or Leyton Orient up for grabs for two winners.
Noakes made it through the last stage in December with a steady performance and a goal in a trial match.
But now it all comes down to one final game at Leyton Orient’s Matchroom Stadium this Wednesday (January 16), with Orient boss Russell Slade and Swindon manager Paolo Di Canio then selecting the players they want to offer a one-year professional deal.
While they may yet choose to invite more to join their training sessions, only one player will be offered a contract by each League One club and Noakes knows he has to impress.
He said: ‘It’s the biggest game of my life. It’s at the Matchroom Stadium, under the floodlights and it’s a massive, massive game.
‘That 90 minutes could change my life.
‘But I can’t think about that too much. I will just go out there with the same attitude I have had for all of the other games.
‘I’d love to get picked. But if it doesn’t happen, I’ve done very well to make it through to this stage.’
The Hawks defender has spent a spell on loan at Horndean this season, but has been forced to sit on the sidelines after a recent red card.
Noakes said: ‘I’ve been on loan at Horndean and enjoyed it but I’ve been suspended for a professional foul against Portchester.
‘I’ve still been training to keep myself fit but I haven’t been wearing myself out, either.’
Noakes, whose grandfather Alf played for Pompey, Crystal Palace and West Ham in the 1960s, scored with a header from a free-kick in his latest trial game.
But he believes he has as good a chance as any of the other final 11 players who will line up against a Leyton Orient XI to earn the top prize.
He said: ‘There’s nobody that has stood out above everyone else. It’s all pretty close.
‘So I know I’ve got to do my best to shine more than the other players on that pitch.
‘There are some good players there.
‘I’ve tried to play as I normally do. When you try too hard to impress, that’s usually when you mess up.
‘I made a few little sloppy passes, but you have to get it straight out of your head.’
And while both Slade and Di Canio had words for the triallists, they didn’t give anything away.
Noakes said: ‘They were watching and they came in the changing rooms after the game.
‘They didn’t speak to anyone individually and didn’t give anything away but they said a few words of encouragement.’
Di Canio said: ‘All the finalists have done well to make it this far. They should be proud of their achievements.
‘I am looking for a player who will fit into my current squad and improve as a footballer. He must have a good attitude and be willing to learn.
‘There is an amazing prize on offer. The players will have to work hard to show that they deserve it.’