Shrewsbury Town release, amateur football and Stamford Bridge: The incredible rise of winger Ryan McLean
From the West Midlands Regional League, to semi-professional football to Stamford Bridge. It has been some rise over the last six years for Telford's Ryan McLean.
On Wednesday evening, the 23-year-old came on for AFC Wimbledon as an 89th minute substitute as they were narrowly beaten in the EFL Cup against Premier League giants Chelsea.
The memorable moment came on the back of McLean firing home a 92nd minute winner in the previous round in what has been a whirlwind summer for the former IT recruitment resourcer who only made his first steps into senior football with Allscott Heath back in 2018.
A former Thomas Telford pupil, McLean was on the books of Shrewsbury Town up to the age of 15 before being released.
He had spells with youth sides at AFC Telford United and from there he went to play for his local side, but it wasn't long before he was turning heads at higher levels.
Then Northern Premier League side Market Drayton Town came calling, before he continued to climb the ladder with a move to Newcastle Town.
It was impressive performances for Newcastle that led to professional clubs coming to cast their eye over the winger.
Port Vale, Salford City, Burton Albion and Stoke City all looked at McLean, before he joined National League North Hereford in 2021.
He netted 13 goals in 81 games for Hereford and was offered a new deal by The Bulls.
However, his rise wasn't about to stop there, as League Two AFC Wimbledon came knocking and earlier this summer McLean had to give up his desk job for a shot at professional football.
Then just two months on from training and playing part time while working in an office, McLean had announced himself on the professional stage.
Ten minutes after coming off the bench in an EFL Cup clash against Coventry, he popped up at the back post to sent The Dons through and set up a dream tie with Chelsea.
Prior to Wednesday's tie, McLean explained how rapid his rise had been and how surreal it was to be in the position he currently finds himself.
He said: "I am trying to take it in my stride but I can’t really explain it. To come from playing in parks to Stamford Bridge is pretty cool.
“At 18 I was playing Saturday county league stuff and not getting paid at all. Being at Hereford I needed a job and I worked as a mechanic at Audi as well.
“I worked as a ‘resourcer’ - matching companies with IT vacancies with the right people via websites like Indeed.
“One day I was at work when my phone rang and it was my agent asking me if I fancied moving to League Two.
"It was a very quick decision even though there were only a couple of days before pre-season started.
“I can’t even remember how it all panned out because everything happened so fast. It was a bit confusing really.”
Like many part time players who make a move to the lower leagues in a bid to make it in the professional game, McLean explained how the switch hasn't made him more money.
But the chance to play the game professionally was never something he would turn down.
He added: "I am a late starter in the professional game, I get that. But everyone has a different pathway.
“Turning pro isn’t even getting me extra money. I’d say I earn a similar amount now to what I was before at Hereford and with my part-time office job. But it’s amazing.
“I’m in a house with a couple of the other lads and it’s great although Southerners do take a bit of getting used to. Everyone is a cheeky chappy down here.”