Former Chelsea midfielder Billy Clifford signs for Hawks – his sixth club since the start of 2018/19
A decade ago, Billy Clifford was appearing for Chelsea in a pre-season friendly against an Ajax team featuring the likes of Toby Alderweireld, Jan Vertonghen and Christian Eriksen.
Now, he’s just become the latest addition to the Hawks’ new-look squad who on Tuesday returned to pre-season training ahead of this weekend’s opening friendly against AFC Totton.
Clifford will be hoping to win the National League South title for the second season running after ending his only season at Wealdstone with a championship medal.
He was also named in the division’s Team of the Season alongside Hawks pair Sam Magri and Jonah Ayunga.
Clifford gives boss Paul Doswell a further midfield option alongside Wes Fogden, Josh Taylor, Bedsente Gomis and Godfrey Poku.
Now 27, Clifford joined the Chelsea youth set-up when he was just eight.
He went on to sign his first professional contract with Chelsea in 2010, the year he helped the Blues lift the FA Youth Cup.
He started out as a wingback before being converted into an attacking midfielder.
Chelsea boss Carlo Ancelotti gave the 17-year-old a start in a pre-season friendly against Ajax in Amsterdam that same summer.
It was very much a second string Blues XI, though, featuring youngsters such as Ryan Bertrand, Daniel Sturridge and goalkeeper Ryan Turnbull alongside the more experienced Jon Obi Mikel and Michael Essien.
Always highly rated during his youth team days at Stamford Bridge, Clifford amassed 100 appearances for the Blues at U18 and U21 levels combined and won an under-21 Premier League winners medal in 2010/11.
In the summer of 2011 he started for Chelsea in a pre-season friendly at Fratton Park, alongside Fernando Torres, Ashley Cole, Florent Malouda and Branislav Ivanovic.
Clifford made his pro debut on loan to League One side Colchester in January 2013, ending the season with 18 league appearances.
Clifford started the following season on loan at Yeovil Town but made just one appearance in the League Cup. The following January he was loaned to Royal Antwerp, then managed by ex-Chelsea striker Jimmy Floyd-Hasselbaink.
In the summer of 2014 he agreed to be released from his Blues contract a year early, without making a first team appearance at Stamford Bridge, and signed for League One club Walsall.
He made 13 league outings, but didn’t appear after late November and left in early 2015 after his six-month contract expired.
Ahead of the 2015/16 season, Clifford dropped down into non-league football to sign for National League newcomers Boreham Wood.
He made 21 league appearances - including seven off the bench - but that was enough to earn him a deal at League Two club Crawley Town, who were managed at the time by his former Chelsea youth boss Dermot Drummy.
He was a regular for the Sussex club in 2016/17, making 26 EFL starts plus a further 10 as a sub.
The following season, he made just seven league appearances, the last of which came on Boxing Day 2017.
Following his release, he returned to Boreham Wood but was signed by Hemel Hempstead boss Dean Brennan after just a few weeks of the new season.
When Brennan left to take over at Billericay a few months later, Clifford was one of his first signings. But in February 2019, after Brennan had left for Kingstonian, the player joined hometown club Slough Town on loan.
For the third time in under a year, Brennan signed the player in the summer of 2019 after taking over at Wealdstone.
He netted seven league and cup goals for the Stones as they ended up winning the National League South title.
Hawks have now become his sixth club since the beginning of 2018/19. Both player and club will be hoping his stay there is longer than at the previous five.
Clifford is Hawks’ fifth close season signing after strikers Tommy Wright and Joe Iaciofano, centre half Moussa Diarra and Poku.