A year ago, Sean Longstaff played at Gigg Lane, the modest home of Bury.
Longstaff had played against AFC Wimbledon at Kingsmeadow for loan club Blackpool a couple of weeks earlier.
Fast forward 12 months, and the 21-year-old, himself modest, is playing on somewhat bigger stages.
Longstaff, since making his first-team debut at Anfield, has played at Wembley and Stamford Bridge as well as St James’s Park.
It’s been a “whirlwind”, according to Longstaff, given his chance when Rafa Benitez lost Jonjo Shelvey and Mohamed Diame to injury and Ki Sung-yueng to the Asian Cup. Longstaff has started the club’s last seven league and cup games – and he hasn’t looked out of place.
“It’s been amazing,” said the Newcastle-born player, promoted from the club’s Under-23 squad last summer. “I was looking from the outside in for a lot of the season, and from Boxing Day, it’s been amazing. It’s been a bit of a whirlwind. I’ve enjoyed every second of it. I think the other lads are pretty much fit now, so it’ll be interesting to see what happens.”
Newcastle have played the division’s top five teams with Longstaff, son of former Great Britain ice hockey international and Whitley Warriors coach David, in the starting XI. Longstaff isn’t content with just seven starts. He wants seven more, and a lot more after that.
“If I look back at the end of my career, I don’t want to just say ‘I played seven games for Newcastle’,” said Longstaff.
“I want to have played at these stadiums every week with Newcastle. I want to play at the top grounds against the top players – that’s the way I am. It’s great to get a start, but that’s all it is.
“I can’t put it into words what this month has meant for me and my family. For them to come round the country and watch me against the top teams has been great. For me, it’s about keeping working hard. I’m just trying to do enough to stay in the manager’s thoughts.
If I look back at the end of my career, I don’t want to just say ‘I played seven games for Newcastle’. Looking back on it, I want to have played at these stadiums every week with Newcastle.Sean Longstaff
“When you’ve got top players like Jonjo, Mo and Ki coming back, it’s going to be tough, but that’s all part of the game. It’s good for me that I’ll be able to train against them every day. If there are more opportunities, that’ll be great. It’s great to have your top players back.”
Longstaff’s season in League One with Blackpool taught him a lot, and the down-to-earth player has learnt even more over the past few weeks
“You do (learn), especially against the top teams,” said Longstaff. “I think I’ve played Chelsea, Man City, Tottenham and Liverpool – four of the top six. It’s been great. Just look at the players on the pitch. Playing at Wembley is something you dream of as a kid, and if someone had said to me a year ago ‘you’re going to do this’, I’d have probably laughed at them. I’ve enjoyed every second of it.
“I can’t wait for the rest of the season. I’ll keep learning, keep working hard and see if there are any more opportunities to come.”
Longstaff and his team-mates have had a few days off ahead of the February 11 game against Wolverhampton Wanderers at Molineux.
“The break’s going to be good for everyone,” said Longstaff.