Jay Fulton set to join Swansea City's 100 club
Turn back the clock to January 2014 and Jay Fulton was not allowing himself to think beyond the target of getting one Swansea City first-team appearance under his belt.
Six-and-a-half years later, the Scot is set to become the latest Swans centurion after making his 99th appearance for the Liberty club in Wednesday’s spectacular finale to the regular season at the Madejski Stadium.
Fulton's ton comes hot on the heels of those racked up by Matt Grimes and Connor Roberts.
Grimes marked his century with a victory at Birmingham, with Roberts able to do likewise in the unforgettable win against the Royals.
Fulton will hope to do the same in Sunday's play-off semi-final clash against Brentford, having made the most of his recent opportunities after having to show patience in his early years with the Swans.
Fulton who grew up in a football-mad family in Cumbernauld, just outside Glasgow, is the youngest of three siblings who all went on to become professional footballers, following in the footsteps of their father Stephen, a classy midfielder who played for Celtic and Hearts.
Putting pen to paper on the final day of the 2014 January transfer window, Fulton was soon to become the first of his family to play in the Premier League after making the switch from Falkirk.
It didn’t take long for Garry Monk to see enough potential in a young player with an eye for a pass and a willingness to make a tackle to give him a chance in the senior side.
Fulton’s senior Swans debut came as a substitute in a home win over Aston Villa in April 2014, and his first start followed in the victory at Sunderland in front of a crowd of 45,580 a few weeks later.
“I was coming to the end of my contract at Falkirk and had three months left on my contract so it was a case of looking at a couple of options,” says the 26-year-old.
“Myself and Stephen Kingsley came down for a week, trained, had a look around the place and I ended up signing here in the January.
“The way it happened was crazy, I signed in January from the Scottish second division and three months later I was coming on to make my debut in the Premier League, then making my first start in the Premier League soon after. I couldn’t have wished for it to go any better.
“It was definitely a different world. Up in Scotland we had four backroom staff and in Swansea there were great facilities, lots of staff and lots of players.”
Despite his early success in SA1, the Scotland youth international’s journey to 100 appearances has not always been straightforward.
His progress was hindered the following pre-season after he picked up a knee ligament injury the day before the squad jetted out to America for their two-week tour. Fulton boarded the plane in a knee brace as he continued his rehabilitation Stateside.
“That pre-season we came back looking forward to the new season and on the first day back I did the ligaments in my knee, so that set me back from pushing on at that point," he recalls.
“But to have had a taste of playing in the Premier League and playing at the highest level was brilliant.”
Fulton managed just one league start in the 2014-15 season, as part of the Swans line-up who chalked up a memorable 1-0 win away to Southampton.
Despite an impressive display at St Mary’s, he was soon back on the sidelines as the likes of Jack Cork, Jonjo Shelvey, Leon Britton and Ki Sung-Yueng were ahead of him in the midfield pecking order.
After continuing to find game-time hard to come by in the following season, Fulton joined Oldham Athletic on loan where he made 11 appearances.
Upon his return to Swansea, Fulton faced another scrap for minutes and made two substitute appearances in the spring of 2016 in the notable victories over Arsenal and Liverpool, before featuring 13 times for the senior side in the club’s penultimate season in the Premier League.
In a bid to get more minutes under his belt, Fulton joined Wigan Athletic on loan for the second-half of the 2017-18 season, making five appearances for the Latics including playing in their upset FA Cup victory over all-conquering Manchester City.
During Fulton’s stint in Wigan, he could only look on as the Swans fell out of the top-flight at the end of a challenging season that had seen Paul Clement and Carlos Carvalhal at the helm.
Following relegation to the Championship, newly-appointed boss Graham Potter opted to hand the Swans’ young crop of talent opportunities to shine, a decision that certainly benefitted Fulton and a number of others.
The midfielder went on to make 37 appearances in all competitions last season, netting three goals along the way.
“Nobody wants to get relegated from the Premier League and everyone wants to strive to get there like we are doing now,” said Fulton.
“But, for a number of the players, if Swansea didn’t get relegated we probably wouldn’t have experienced that breakthrough into the first-team. We might well have had to move on somewhere else.
“We’ve got to take positives from it, you look at Oli (McBurnie), Dan (James), Joe (Rodon), Connor (Roberts) and Matt (Grimes) to name a few; if we never got relegated we might never have got our chance.
“For us, it was just about getting that opportunity and in the Premier League it’s hard to get that chance when you are a youth player and the team is fighting for its life.
“I think the way we dealt with last season as a team and the football we played was brilliant. We could have got closer to the play-offs than we did, but I think we have had a bit more know-how this season.
“I feel as though the boys have grabbed that opportunity with both hands, Dan has moved to Manchester United, Oli’s with Sheffield United in the Premier League and the other boys are doing well here at Swansea.
“Now us boys at Swansea have got ourselves in the play-offs and we have an opportunity to get back to the Premier League, which is where everyone wants to be.
"The last two years in the Championship have been really enjoyable. It is a tough league with the amount of games and there are a lot of experienced players in the league, but we definitely have a better understanding of it this season.”
Predominantly a defensive midfielder in his early years at the club, Fulton has since proven he offers far more than a shielding presence.
His crisp passing and eye for goal have caught the eye, and he notably scored the first hat-trick of his career in a pre-season friendly against Yeovil Town last summer.
“I can be a box-to-box midfielder, if a job needs to be done defensively then I’ll be there and I feel that is high up in my attributes,” says Fulton.
“Everybody wants to score goals, if I can place myself to get in the box and nick a few goals over the season then I will, everybody wants that.
"That’s something I feel I can do and obviously it helps the team if we can get more goals too.”
Fulton carried the momentum from his impressive 2018-19 campaign into this season and has made a further 37 appearances under the guidance of Steve Cooper, playing an integral role in the side’s push for the play-offs, adding another three goals to his tally.
“It has been enjoyable and tough at times,with a lot of hard work going on behind the scenes, but I have really enjoyed it,” he added.
“I’ve scored three goals this season but I probably should have had more, including one against Reading on Wednesday, but you’ve just got to put yourself in those positions.
“Coming down from Falkirk to Swansea, who were then a Premier League side, I was just looking to get even one appearance.
“The way I have been going the last two seasons, and the way the Championship is with games coming thick and fast, I just want to be involved as much as possible.
“Six-and-a-half years seems a long time but it’s a nice place to live, my family are happy here.
"It seems shorter because it’s only really the last two seasons where I have properly pulled through into the first team.”
It may well be his 100th appearance but there will be only one thing on Fulton’s mind on Sunday evening; giving Swansea the upper hand in their twp-legged play-off semi-final clash with Brentford.
“The way we played right up until the end on Wednesday and the quality of the goals was amazing, sometimes it just seems as if something was meant to happen,” he says.
“We’ve put ourselves in the play-offs so we’ve given ourselves a chance. We’ll prepare for it like any normal game and we’ll give it our all.
“We are playing well so we’ll give it 100% and see where it takes us, like we have done all season.
“This season I think we have been written off a lot of the time but now we have an opportunity in front of us and anything can happen in these games, it’s one last push.
“It’s a proud achievement getting to 100 appearances, but right now as a team we are focused on preparing for the play-offs, giving our all and we’ll see where it takes us.”