​​​​​​​Inside Cohen Bramall's rise from factory work to joining Arsenal

Cohen Bramall

In an exclusive interview with Sky Sports, Arsenal's new signing Cohen Bramall and his agent Lee Payne tell the inside story of how an unknown defender from the seventh tier of English football went from non-league obscurity to the Premier League's elite.

Cohen Bramall puffs out his cheeks and shakes his head in disbelief. Three weeks ago he was wondering where his next pay cheque was coming from after he was made redundant from his job at a Bentley car factory in Crewe. Now, he has just come off air at Sky Sports News HQ on the day he finalised a sensational move from Hednesford Town to Arsenal.

Bramall's life has changed unimaginably and it's not surprising he's still coming to terms with it. Football is full of rags-to-riches tales and Premier League champion Jamie Vardy is the poster boy for the next generation of non-league hopefuls. But Bramall's extraordinary story takes some beating.

"I was at the Bentley factory for nearly a year," he tells Sky Sports. "It was a full-time job fitting radiators and working with big machinery on the production line. I was doing long hours and playing for Hednesford Town at the same time, going up for training on Tuesdays and Thursdays and playing matches on Saturdays. It was tiring and I was struggling to get to football sometimes."

Bramall heard he was being made redundant on the Tuesday before Christmas. "When they told me I was thinking I needed to sort something else quick, I needed more money coming in," he says. "But the next day I got a phone call saying Arsenal wanted me to come down for a trial."

Cohen Bramall in action for Northern Premier club Hednesford Town (credit: Hednesford Town Football Club/Colin Rogers)
Image: Cohen Bramall in action (credit: Hednesford Town Football Club/Colin Rogers)

A broad smile stretches across Bramall's face as he remembers the moment he heard the news, but how exactly did a 20-year-old left-back from Hednesford go from playing against Coalville Town and Skelmersdale United in the Evo-Stik Northern Premier League to training with Alexis Sanchez and Mesut Ozil in under a month?

Lee Payne was the man who made it happen. Payne is a former winger who moved from Barnet to Newcastle for a non-league record transfer fee of £125,000 in 1988. His playing career was cut short by a serious knee injury but he now works as an agent at Full Contact, where he uses his own experience to help promising non-league youngsters climb the football ladder.

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"Cohen had just been on trial at Sheffield Wednesday," says Payne. "He played in an U23s game against Birmingham City at their training ground and it just so happened that Arsenal scout Brian McDermott was there. He hadn't gone for any particular purpose, he just decided to cover that game on the day.

"Cohen caught his eye and he decided he needed to find out a little bit more about him. He contacted me and asked if I was looking after him. I said yes and he said he really liked the look of him. He asked if Arsenal could get him in after Christmas. I said how about this afternoon? Brian agreed and I called Cohen straight away."

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Cohen Bramall says he was gobsmacked when he trained with Arsenal

"I was driving home to get my things together for a trial at Shrewsbury Town when Lee called," Bramall says. "I thought it was a wind-up, I was going mad, but as soon as he told me he was serious I grabbed all my stuff and headed straight down to London."

Bramall arrived at Arsenal's plush London Colney headquarters just as their senior players were walking in for training. "I was absolutely gobsmacked," he says. "I got there thinking I was going to be with the U23s but they told me I would be training with the first-team on the Thursday and Friday. I was like, 'wow'.

"The standard was insane. It was as sharp as anything. They kept the ball and popped it around so well. It was an absolute honour to be a part of it and everyone was so welcoming. Danny Welbeck, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Chuba Akpom helped me through the whole thing. I felt like I did well."

Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger looks on during a training session at London Colney
Image: Cohen Bramall impressed Arsene Wenger during Arsenal training

Payne was watching from the sidelines. "After about five minutes I was thinking they were going to sign him," he says. "Cohen was playing little reverse passes to Alexis Sanchez, crossing the ball and getting on the end of things. Arsene Wenger was standing there nodding his head. I knew the first impression was good, and on the second day Cohen nailed it."

Wenger was struck by Bramall's natural speed and athleticism. "On the second day they did some sprints from corner to corner," says Payne. "Cohen has got an athletics background. He glides over the grass and he's got a tremendous turn of foot. I remember watching Arsene follow Cohen go past him and I could tell he was taken with his movement. You can't coach pace like that.

"I've been doing this a long time and I have been in these situations before, but I was so excited for Cohen. Everything just felt right. We went back into the canteen at the end of the session and the chief scout Steve Rowley came over to us. He said that in 30 years he had never seen a player come from that level and do what he did.

"It's a massive credit to Cohen. We're talking about one of the biggest clubs in the world here. This just doesn't happen. Normally they would compile a three-month report with two or three different scouts and then build a character profile. What's happened with Cohen is unbelievable. It's surreal."

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Watch footage of Cohen Bramall as he plays for non-league Hednesford Town

Bramall comes across as an ordinary young man. He describes Wenger as a "great guy" and reveals his mum cried when he moved out of his parents' house, but it's clear he's already fully focused on the challenge ahead. He is not expected to compete for a place in Arsenal's first-team just yet but he lights up as the conversation turns to the future.

"In the next six months I want to try and build on keeping the ball, being powerful, and getting my body used to full-time football," he says. "Hopefully I'll go on pre-season with them and try to break into the first team. That's my goal, that's what I want to do as soon as possible. I'm just going to take everything on board and go for it."

And will he miss the old factory job? "I actually enjoyed it!" he says with a grin. "But I was going to have to pack it in soon because I'd used all my holiday going on trials. I couldn't imagine what was about to happen when I was made redundant. Just passing the ball to an Arsenal player was a dream come true." He pauses to glance around the studio. "This kind of thing doesn't happen a lot."

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