Having come through the ranks at North, Ben Acey, then 18, was unveiled as a Bristol City on 13 May last year after impressing for Guernsey FC in the Isthmian South Central. After signing an initial one-year contract, the midfielder agreed an extension to his deal taking him through to June 2024.
How has your first season gone so far?
It was a tough start. I think I put too much pressure on myself to perform, and then I picked up a little injury and I kind of reset my mentality a little bit. Then I cemented myself in the U21s, went on this good run in the Premier League Cup, beating the likes of Newcastle, Crystal Palace, Sheffield United, Everton, and I played all of those games.
So the fact I can play Category 1 Premier League academies and be on the winning team and play really well is good. I just need to keep going and hopefully a stroke of luck comes and I take the opportunity.
What was it like seeing your good friend Alex Scott sharing a pitch with some of the best players in the world when they faced Man City recently?
It was a bit surreal. I watched him walk out onto the pitch and I was just stood there with a massive grin on my face. I watch him week in, week out in the Championship and he’s the best player on the pitch but it was the best team in the world that he was playing against so I was hoping he’d do well, but he held his own for sure.
He didn’t look out of place at all and he showed he can play at that level and in the Premier League. Three years ago we were playing together in Guernsey — it’s surreal. I think he deserves it more than anyone and I couldn’t be happier for him.
Early on, was it difficult not to measure yourself against Alex’s progress?
Yeah, back home all anybody had ever seen is what Alex had done so a lot of people were saying stuff to me before I went to Bristol like ‘you can do that as well’ and putting that expectation on me. And obviously, you don’t want to be listening to outside opinions, but sometimes when it’s all you hear.
Like, I had people coming up to me and speak to me about it and I think it’s hard sometimes to block it all out and sometimes you can let it get to you a little bit. So at first I feel like I did measure myself against him a bit, and if something didn’t go well I would be like ‘oh, I’m not good enough at this level’, but that’s obviously not true.
Since I’ve taken things at my own pace, mentally I’ve found it a lot easier and I’ve been performing a lot better. Everyone has different journey’s and travels at different speeds so I’ve just got to stay level-headed and mature about it and hopefully my time comes.
How much time have you got to make that impression?
I’ve got just over a year left on my contract, so I think for the rest of this season it would be nice to get an opportunity to play with the first team, whether that will come or not I don’t know.
I just want to get my head down, work hard, and just work on all the areas of my game and in the gym, and get a good pre-season behind me while I’m back home and then come back flying for pre-season, and hopefully next year is a big one and I can show what I can do on a bigger stage.
Podcast: Listen to the full interview with Ben Acey
You’ve trained with the first team a few times, is that an environment you feel comfortable in now?
Yeah, I’ve trained with them five or six times now. I feel like I held my own and was doing myself justice. I didn’t feel like I was out of place and I could keep up with the tempo and technique required. So hopefully I get a few more chances with them and show I fit in in that environment.
On the pitch, what have been the bright moments for you this season — you’ve scored a couple of goals!
Yeah, I need to start scoring a few more! But I’ve had a few, which is nice. We’re always the underdogs playing against Premier League opposition, but when we’ve played them and beat them it’s quite a nice feeling. Doing yourself justice, doing the club proud.
The academy, especially for Bristol City, is a big part of the club. You look at the team that started against Man City in the FA Cup, there were four or five academy graduates playing.
Now you’ve experienced a taste of pro football, what’s your advice to young players back in Guernsey who want that same opportunity?
First of all, you’ve just got to work hard and never give up. You never know when an opportunity is around the corner, stuff in football changes so quickly. If you work hard and do the best you can do, if it doesn’t come, it doesn’t come — that’s no fault of your own — but just put yourself in the best environment you can to get exposure to improve yourself.
Take criticism in the best way possible, use it as fire to push on. Once you get the chance, hopefully you take it, and once you take the chance, just keep working hard because you haven’t made it for a long, long time.