It is not uncommon for footballers to live a life in the shadow of their fathers, but that is a challenge that Exeter City youngster Jordan Tillson is facing up to.
The 21-year-old made his Grecians debut in City’s 2-0 League Two win at Hartlepool United last Saturday and turned in a classy performance that his father, Andy, would have been proud of.
Tillson Snr forged a fine career for himself as a centre-half for Grimsby Town, Queen’s Park Rangers, Bristol Rovers, Walsall and Rushden & Diamonds. He was Rovers’ record buy when they forked out £370,000 for his services in 1992 and is widely regarded as a club legend, after making over 250 appearances for the Pirates. Now Jordan is looking to follow suit.
Tillson Jnr’s time at Rovers was less successful and he was released by the club when his scholarship finished in May 2011, having not made the grade at first-team level. But, before the disappointment of being released had even set in, Tillson was picked up by Exeter, where his father was working at the time as part of manager Paul Tisdale’s coaching team.
Andy may have left Exeter since, but Jordan remained and quietly progressed to the point where he was handed his first-team debut as one of three centre-halves in Exeter’s superb win in the north-east.
“It was hard. It is not as easy as it looks when you are watching up in the stands, but I was chuffed to get a start and hopefully I can build on it for next year,” Tillson said.
“Jordy [Moore-Taylor] and Scot [Bennett] know what they are doing, so I just played off the back of that, really.
“It’s been hard because I have been in the squad quite a lot, but the older boys have been really good to me and talked to me all season.
“Pat [Baldwin] has been unbelievable this week and really helped me out and spent extra time with me after training. We shared a room before the game and it’s given me a head start on the game, because he talked me through it. He didn’t stop talking all night!”
Tillson’s development this campaign has been outstanding. He started pre-season playing at right-back, but there is no doubt that he feels more at home playing at centre-half, where he has been a consistently impressive performer for the club’s Under-21 side.
Despite making the bench on occasions and travelling to several away games, Tillson has had to bide his time before being given his chance. However, it was one he took with both hands, despite conceding a penalty at the end of the first half, which was saved by Christy Pym.
“It was never a penalty,” Tillson said. “I went shoulder-to-shoulder with him and he fell over. I think he saw me coming and went down and the ref gave it. It was a bit soft, but it happens. You have to learn from it and make sure I don’t do it again next time.
“Christy bailed me out with a great save, so I have to thank him for that. He said before the game that he knew where he was going to go and he stuck to it.”
That aside, it was a faultless performance from Tillson, with Tisdale claiming post-match it was as good a debut as he had seen from a young player. It was also nice that Tillson’s father was there to see it.
“It was nice to see him. He’s come a long way to watch and I didn’t want to let him down,” Tillson said. “He’s already had a word about the penalty and he’s not happy! But I’m sure he gave away his fair share during his career.
“He didn’t make his debut until he was 21 either, so maybe [being a late developer] is in the genes. I am actually younger than he was when he made his debut. But, if I have half the career he had, then I’ll be chuffed.”