BY RICHARD CAWLEY
It could be a Charlton Athletic quiz question in future years, what do Mason Burstow and Mario Balotelli have in common? The answer is they both scored with their first touches on their debut.
But there seems little dispute that the Charlton Athletic forward’s goal was a more special achievement considering it was at the very start of his professional journey.
Former Italian international Balotelli achieved the feat just four minutes into his playing career for Monza in Serie B in December 2020.
Burstow had also only just been introduced to the action when he struck in a 6-1 EFL Trophy win over Crawley Town at the end of August.
“It felt amazing,” said the 18-year-old, who has been raised in Woolwich and Plumstead.
“Making your debut, just in itself, is unreal. To score with my first touch makes it even better.
“I remember a few days later I searched for people who had scored with their first touch – Balotelli and my name were the first ones that came up on there. It was a surreal stat, to be honest.
“I remember the goal like it was yesterday. Charles [Clayden] picked up the ball and I was behind the defender at the back post. It was quite a low cross but it came past all the bodies in the box. I just flicked my head at it. I felt like I could’ve volleyed it. It was instinct, to go for it with my head.”
Burstow followed it up by coming off the bench to net in the 4-0 FA Cup win over Havant & Waterlooville, also at The Valley.
He answers without hesitation when asked how many touches he took before notching his second goal at senior level.
“I had six. I remember counting them. It’s a step up [in terms of match], mainly just because it was in the FA Cup.
“Josh [Davison] had intercepted the ball and there was one defender, I just thought ‘I’m going to go for goal here’. I took five touches and the sixth is my shot.
“I went into the dressing room afterwards and Johnnie Jackson said: ‘Well done. You scored in the Papa John’s with your first touch and now you’ve scored in the FA Cup – it’s a big deal’.
“It’s not until after the game you really think about what you’ve achieved and what you’ve done.”
Burstow has continued to gain experience since, including completing his first 90 minutes in the 1-0 win over Milton Keynes as Charlton booked their place in the last eight of the tournament.
He made his 10th appearance of the season in Sunday’s 1-0 defeat to Norwich City in the FA Cup third round, starting up top with Jayden Stockley and Conor Washington both sidelined with injuries.
Burstow played for Junior Reds between the age of four until 11, then they became Cray Wanderers.
Three years later he moved to Wellling United, where he later signed scholarship forms. He made five first-team appearances for the Wings and also featured for Maidstone United’s U23s.
Burstow previously had a six-week trial with the Canaries
“I think they were 11-13 and 14-16 [age groups],” said Burstow. “I was 14 at the time. I just wasn’t physically developed enough for the position they were looking at.”
The South Londoner had been invited in by Chelsea when he scored for Maidstone’s development side against Charlton. The Addicks, fully aware of the Blues’ interest, approached him straight after the game with the offer of a trial.
Burstow had a connection to the Addicks, in more ways than one.
As a pupil at Cardwell Primary School, they would get sent free tickts for the annual Fill The Valley fixtures. But also his uncle Stuart Wiggins, a season-ticket holder in the Covered End, has been a supporter for 30 years.
“He took me to my first game when I was about five,” said Burstow. “He was working, so we couldn’t go to every game.
“A lot of my family are Arsenal fans. I’d like to say I’m an Arsenal fan but in terms of supporting my local team and going to games, Charlton is definitely my first.
“I’ve always been football mad. I was in my nan’s garden and I was playing with a ball. My uncle said I had really good foot, hand and eye co-ordination. He took me to a skill and technique school at Charlton Community Trust with my aunt. I fell in love with it and haven’t stopped since.”
Anthony Hayes, development lead coach at Charlton, has previously revealed it took time for the young forward to adapt to a full-time environment. Burstow puts an early hip flexor injury down to pushing too hard in his attempts to try and impress.
He signed his first professional contract in July 2021 – academy boss Steve Avory broke the news to Burstow and his uncle during a phone call.
“I remember Steve saying I’d impressed and that I’d got a good profile – they felt they could develop me more,” said Burstow. “He told me that I had a good chance at the club and, if it didn’t work out, just football in general.
“I remember going and picking up the papers, this was all during Covid. I couldn’t sign it there and do all the normal pictures. We brought the papers home, I signed them as soon as I could and took them back. I knew I’d played well and I had impressed. I knew there was a good chance of me getting something. But there is always that doubt until you hear it for sure.”
Burstow’s first two goals have seen him celebrate by using his hands to form his initials.
“I did a knee slide against Crawley and Nigel Adkins [then manager] said not to do any knee slides because it will injure your knees in the long run,” explained the teenager. “So I had to think of something new. I felt that worked.”
Jackson was known to be partial to a knee slide of his own during his playing days in SE7.
You wonder if it could make a reappearance. Burstow scored his first league goal, at Crewe, but was more intent on respotting the ball as the Addicks chased an equaliser.
Jackson has been impressed by the attitude, application and temperament of the young prospect. Burstow has also had cameos in the league against Plymouth Argyle, Morecambe and Wycombe since Jackson took charge of team affairs, initially for an extended spell as interim manager.
“It means a lot – the trust from the manager,” said Burstow. “When you’re the caretaker you wouldn’t normally pick the youth players but he has given me that opportunity.
“I appreciate every minute and I’m working hard. I want to help the team. I’ve always had love for the club and Jacko has supported me the whole way.
“It’s an amazing academy. Having my name on that list who have made their debuts and scored – along with people I’m coming through with like Deji [Elerewe] and Charles – it’s a good feeling. Steve has seen people like Joe Gomez, Ademola Lookman and Joe Aribo come through. Me, Deji and Charles are the next in line, I guess, that feels amazing.”
PICTURES: PAUL EDWARDS AND KYLE ANDREWS
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