EFL Youth Development Week | Sam Parker's Rise to the First Team

20th March
Sam Parker

As part of EFL Youth Development Week, 17-year-old Sam Parker discusses his recent breakthrough to the first team at Swansea City. 

It's been quite a season for Sam Parker. He started the campaign with a first pro contract freshly signed, and by scoring his first goal at under-21 level. Just a few days past Christmas and he was running out at the CBS Arena to make his senior Swansea City debut, and soon claimed a first-team assist in the FA Cup win over Morecambe.

Those outings capped a rise that had started when the defender joined the club at under-nine level, and he will be determined to kick on again when he returns from a hamstring injury.

Cardiff-born Parker was a regular with the under-18s last season, and was handed several opportunities with the under-21s in the Professional Development League and Premier League Cup.

The Wales youth international has been delighted to see his hard work pay off, but he knows there is much more for him to accomplish, and Parker has no intention of resting on his laurels.

Here, the academy product details his climb from the pre-academy right through to the first-team ranks in his own words.

Early days

“I started here at under-nine level, and worked my way through the age groups. I was in the under-15s when COVID hit, and that age-group is the most crucial as you find out whether you’re getting kept on or not. 

“I missed out on a lot of vital training during lockdown, so I’d just do drills and fitness at home, which was tough, and a bit boring! 

“That whole period did make me lose a bit of motivation about playing football, if I'm honest. By the time I came back, they were making scholarship decisions almost straight away.  

“But I soon picked up my love for football again when Darren Davies joined as the under-16s' coach. 

“There was just something about Daz that made me want to keep playing again. At first, the club weren’t going to offer me a scholarship, which hurt a bit. 

“But, with COVID easing down, we had a lot more games coming into the calendar, and I started to play a lot more. 

“Then there were conversations about reconsidering my decision, and eventually I was offered a scholarship, which I was so buzzing about because I had been at the club for so long."

Sam the scholar

Sam Parker

Parker's first season as a full-time scholar soon came, and he admits the schedule and new environment took time to adjust to.

The 16-year-old signed scholarship terms with the club prior to the 2022-23 season, and linked up with Bryon Anthony's under-18 squad, before Darren Davies moved up from the younger age-group to take charge.

Parker went on to make over 20 appearances that year, playing pivotal roles in the side's PDL Cup and FA Youth Cup campaigns.

“My first year as a scholar, it was mainly about adjusting to the full-time training programme as a player, which did take getting used to," said Parker.

“I had a good first year, I was playing regularly, starting a lot and I was really enjoying my football. 

“I had a few opportunities with the under-21s that season, as well as a few training sessions with the first team, which is always a surreal experience. 

“It was quite a big step-up at the time, because it’s something I was never exposed to, and I had to big myself up every time to do that. 

“I had an injury closer to the end of my first year which put me out for five or six weeks, I then picked up some niggles after returning as I went away with Wales straight away on return."


February 2023 - Wales debut

Sam Parker Wales Under-17s

Parker's breakthrough season with the young Swans caught the attention of Wales Under-17s' head coach Craig Knight, and he was called upon alongside his teammates Jacob Cook and Kit Margetson.

Although injury prevented the the youngster from competing in the Elite Round competition, Parker did go on to represent his country in their historic Uefa European Championship campaign in Hungary in May, after the young Dragons had qualified for a first major tournament in that age category. 

“The games didn’t go as planned in the Euros, but it was still a great experience! I started the first game against Ireland in Hungary," said Parker.

“I missed the Elite Round through injury which I was gutted about, the boys did so well and they created history to reach the finals.

"Representing Wales was such an honour, hearing the anthem is always a great feeling and I hope to have more opportunities to pull on the Welsh jersey in the future at major tournaments."


Under-21s breakthrough

Sam Parker V Crewe

Upon Parker's return from Hungary, the 2023-24 season was just around the corner.

He featured in the under-21s' pre-season fixtures, and in the first round of the Nathaniel MG Cup against Carmarthen Town in July.

The Professional Development League season kicked off in early August and Parker - a second-year scholar - was a main figure of Anthony Wright's squad.

“There was a quick turnaround between the Euros and returning to Swansea. I started out with the under-18s first, then I was up training with the under-21s," said Parker.

“I just stayed with the under-21s throughout June and July and played games with them, up until the start of their season."

The teenager soon opened his goalscoring account for the upper-age group on August 22, netting the opener in the 4-1 win over Crewe Alexandra at the Swansea.com Stadium, arriving at the far post to convert an excellent cross from Joel Cotterill.

It was an excellent all-round display from Parker, hot on the heels of having put pen to paper on a first professional contract through to the end of June 2026.

He went on to score a further five goals over the course of September and August, as well as featuring in the further round of the under-21s' Nathaniel MG Cup run.

“The season came around, and I’d just turned 17 and I was starting for the under-21s and it was going well, I was getting some goals and assists," he says.

"It was around the time I had signed my first professional contract, which is mad to think because as 15-year-old, I was unsure whether I'd be at this club.

“I’d like to think in that short space of time, where I had a couple of training sessions with the first team, that I impressed, and they did take the chance on me."

And within a space of a month in December, Parker went from featuring in the under-18s' FA Youth Cup third-round fixture against Ipswich Town to walking out on the pitch in the Championship.

Rise to the first-team

Sam Parker Coventry

Swansea City's Championship clash with Watford at the Swansea.com Stadium in October saw Parker earn in a place in the matchday squad as an unused substitute.

He went on to be named on the bench a further four times before his time soon came. 

“I’d been on the bench four or five times now, and that’s what I had expected again when I travelled to Coventry," said Parker.

“In the hotel, Alan Sheehan pulled me in, and told me to go downstairs before the pre-match team meeting. 

“I was sat in my room by myself, just passing the time because I didn’t know what Sheezy was going to tell me! 

“I went downstairs, and he and Wrighty [Anthony Wright] told me I was going to start and that I was going to play right wing. 

“That’s a position I’m comfortable with, and I actually didn’t really have much pressure on me but I soon felt that when I walked out! 

“I got back into my room, and I was smiling to myself, I didn’t know who to tell first but I soon told everyone I knew. 

“The whole day felt like a whirlwind. I was nervous in the hotel, but when I got to the stadium and walked out to the pitch, it all went away.  

“I felt like I was in a movie when I was in the tunnel! Just looking out to the pitch, the atmosphere was great, the crowd was full, it was amazing." 

Sam Parker pre-match

Parker also revealed how advice from skipper Matt Grimes helped him calm his nerves before walking out of the tunnel at the CBS Arena.

He racked up 75 minutes, before making way for fellow academy product Liam Cullen.

“Before the game, because it was the first time I’d really ever experience this kind of environment, I was sat next to Matt Grimes in the changing room," he added.

“Every now and then, he’d say some advice to me to help me prepare, and he was giving me some insights to some of the people I was up against, it helped the nerves a bit.

“I thought the game went well, and I could have had an assist as well. I remember Yannick Bolasie saying to me after the game he should have scored from my cross. 

“I came off, and I was really proud of myself. It’s something I’ve worked towards since signing my scholarship. 

“To make my first-team debut was incredible."

The Championship start puts Parker sixth on the list of youngest Swansea City players to feature for the club, up there with the likes of Joe Allen and Shaun MacDonald.

Sam Parker Morecambe

Although he didn't feature in the Swans' New Year's Day victory over West Brom, he didn't have to wait long for his next opportunity.

It was an FA Cup debut for Parker in the Swans 2-0 win against League Two outfit Morecambe. And he played a part in the hosts' opening goal, assisting Charlie Patino's close-range finish with a quality delivery.

“I started again in the FA Cup, and to play at thesStadium as part of the first team was just another amazing experience," said Parker.

“I remember when running down the wing, the Swans fans would be shouting ‘come on Sam!' It was quite weird people knew who I was.

“To get an assist in that game too, it just topped it off. At half-time, Charlie told me to put some more deliveries into the box and that’s how that came about."

Sam Parker

January was proving to be a monumental time for the youngster, and he was handed yet another Championship start at St. Andrew's on January 13.

But, after 65 minutes, Parker was forced off due to hamstring injury, after having his name being sung by the Jack Army against Birmingham City.

“Birmingham soon came around, and it was another Championship start, which I couldn't believe again," said Parker.

"I remember they had fireworks going off as the teams walked out, and I just kept thinking about how cool that was. 

“I did a tackle on one of the wingers after chasing him down, and I remember the fans singing my name afterwards, and it was a feeling I’ve never had before. 

“Hearing fans sing my name, especially in front of my family was an amazing feeling. 

“After half-time, I was just running and I felt my hamstring go. I was devastated, I didn’t know the extent of the injury at the time but I knew it was bad."

Sam Parker

Although his season has come to a premature end, Parker has got his sights set on coming back stronger next season.

“It’s full days of rehab at the moment, in the gym, on the bike and I’m just taking it slow," he said.

“At the beginning, I couldn’t really do anything. I had my surgery, then I was on crutches. I had some time at home for two weeks, before I had to start coming in again. 

“The medical staff have been incredible with me, they helped me a lot. I’m at the stage now where I’m trying to maintain my fitness, and slowly building the strength up in my leg. 

“Next season, my aim is to be the best I can be and get a space back within the first team."

Sam Parker

Academy manager Gavin Levey praised the determination Parker has shown since making the step up to senior level.

"It was an incredible moment for the academy to see Sam make his debut," said Levey.

"To see his progression in such a short space of time, to seeing him start in the Championship was an amazing moment for all of the staff and coaches who have worked with him since under-nine level.

"He's a brilliant lad, so focused and so determined. He deserved that chance.

"As an academy, we made sure to celebrate this milestone by having a get together with Sam, his family, and staff past and present.

"It's important we celebrate these moments as a club, and we hope to see more this season."