Even for a lanky lad, Oli McBurnie took a giant step forward in his fledgling career with his first ever Premier League start for Swansea in their Boxing Day defeat at Liverpool.
It was a special moment for the Scotland Under-21 striker, but he’s determined to ensure it’s just a moment, not THE moment.
McBurnie has worked his socks off – almost literally given how low the 21-year-old wears them – to climb his way through the ranks.
Let go by Leeds United as a kid after being deemed too small, 6ft 4in McBurnie refused to settle for a place on the scrapheap and instead earned his stripes down the divisions on loan at Chester City, Newport County and Bristol Rovers across his time with Bradford City and the Swans.
A stand-out for his country at Under-19 and Under-21 level so far, McBurnie has no intention of resting on his laurels.
He said: “It was a night of mixed emotions. Ultimately I was gutted with how the game went from our point of view.
“However, when I look back, it’s one I’ll be proud of because when you’re growing you dream of making your first start on nights like that – under the floodlights at a stadium like Anfield.
“It’s something I’ll cherish for the rest of my life, no matter how my career goes.
“I know it meant a lot to my family. I didn’t even tell my parents that I was starting because I thought it would be too much for them.
“They go to incredible lengths to support me all over the country – and further afield as Dad never likes to miss a game with Scotland.
“I’ve had to work hard to get where I am. It’s maybe not been the most conventional football upbringing.
“I’ve done my time in the Conference, in League Two and League One. Now I’ve had a taste with Swansea at the highest level.
“I think I’m a better player for experiencing the other side of football. I think it’s made me hungrier to stay at this level and push on.
“I didn’t feel out of place but I know it’s just the start. I haven’t achieved anything yet.”
McBurnie’s story of perseverance should act as an inspirational one to any young player who endures a setback.
He added: “Leeds let me go when I was 15 for being ‘too small’. It did hurt at the time.
“To be fair, I did get a late growth spurt, I signed for Bradford at 16 went from there.
“There’s more than one route to take in football. No matter how many times you get knocked down, you have to keep getting back up to go again.”
McBurnie’s appearance delighted those north of the border who have followed his progress, but his attire quickly became as big a talking point – with social media abuzz with comments on the high shorts and low socks combination that’s a regular sight on Scotland duty.
He laughed: “I should explain this. For anyone that’s worried, I do wear shinguards. They’re just very small.
“My shorts are deliberately too small and my socks are rolled down but there’s a back story to it, honest.
“When I was on loan at Chester City in the Conference they didn’t have the biggest budget so I had to make do with what was on offer.
“The socks kept falling down because my calves were too skinny and I wasted too much time in games pulling them back up.
“So in one game I just thought ‘leave them down’. I ended up scoring my first goal in professional football and, because I’m a superstitious type, it stuck from there on in.”
McBurnie wasn’t the only Scottish talent on show at Anfield, with Andrew Robertson once again impressing for the hosts at left-back.
The former Queen’s Park and Dundee United man has been in McBurnie’s position, having initially cemented himself as a regular at Hull City before securing his move to Liverpool, and was full of praise for a fellow countryman who, like him, has worked hard to rise through the ranks.
Robertson said: “It was great to see Oli start his first Premier League game. Hopefully it’s the first of many.
“It’s a proud moment for any player and I know how much it meant to me at the time.
“It was a difficult night for Swansea but he handled himself well.”
McBurnie added: “I was in a couple of Under-21 squads with Andy and I’ve bumped into him a few times since at club level.
“No matter how well he’s done, he hasn’t changed. Guys like Andy have shown what is possible if you work hard and make the most of any opportunities that come your way.”