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Matt Maher: Cameron Archer's Aston Villa rise has been a family affair

For more than a week, the moment has been replaying in Aaron Archer’s mind.

He’s in the stands at Stamford Bridge watching Villa take on Chelsea in the Carabao Cup. Matty Cash crosses from the right and arriving at the back post is his brother, Cameron, to power a header in off the bar.

“Everyone jumped up in front of me and then me and my dad just grabbed each other and were screaming,” he says. “We must have been particularly loud because a guy in front of us turned round and gave a look as if to say: ‘What’s up with you two?’

“All that emotion came out. I remember thinking ‘Yes! He’s done it’.”

At the same time, Jordan Archer was at home, tending to his newborn son, Morgan.

“The match was on TV in the other room,” he explains. “All of a sudden my girlfriend shouted: ‘Jord! He’s scored!’.

“I went racing in and when I saw Cam celebrating, I jumped up myself and almost dropped the baby!”

All stories of sporting success have a proud parent or sibling in the background, without whom none of it would be possible. For Cameron, very much the surprise package of Villa’s early season, it truly has been a family affair.

The 20-year-old is the youngest of four brothers, all of whom have careers in professional and non-league football, all four as strikers. Neither do the links end there. Their uncle, Andy McFarlane, played up front for Portsmouth and Swansea during the 1990s, winning the Auto Windscreens Shield at Wembley with the latter in 1994.

“The striker thing is dad’s fault,” laughs Jordan, who has played in the Football League with Bury and Port Vale and is currently with Southport. “He just wanted goalscorers and wouldn’t allow us to play anywhere else!”

For Richard Archer, those early years would be exhausting.

“It was every day of the week for dad when we were kids, taking us to games,” continues Jordan. “At one point Cam and Lewis, who is the second youngest, would play on Sunday mornings and then me and Aaron in the afternoon. Dad took us everywhere.”

At 32, Aaron is the eldest of the quartet. After a lengthy career in non-league which saw him play for Walsall Wood and Bilston Town among others, he is now first-team coach at Dudley Town.

“I was a huge Wolves fan growing up,” he says. “I just loved Steve Bull. I’d watch videos of him playing and I wanted to be a striker.

“From there I think the others followed suit. Jordan is five years younger and when he started to play I used to coach him in the garden, putting cones out and letting him take shots at me in goal.

“It was always football, football, football. Cam and Lewis never really had much of a choice!”

Those kickabouts in the back garden of the family home on Bloxwich Road provided Cameron with his earliest and most formative football experiences.

“I honestly think it is part of the reason he’s got so good,” says Aaron. “You can imagine how competitive it was! Cam was smaller than us and had to work so hard to get the ball off us. Then, when he got it, he learned to keep it. We couldn’t get it back off him!

“I think that is where he got so much of his strength and control from. When you play with older lads, you learn to adapt.”

That fighting spirit has undoubtedly been on display in recent weeks as Cameron has forced his way into the reckoning at Villa.

The former Walsall Academy student, who played for the district as a youngster, has been on the club’s books since the age of six and made his senior debut off the bench in a 6-0 Carabao Cup win at Crewe in August, 2019. Opportunities proved limited after that, while a loan spell in the National League Premier with Solihull Moors rather fizzled out following Jimmy Shan’s exit from the Damson Park hotseat.

But sport is all about grasping your chance and Archer has unquestionably done that. Invited to London for Villa’s pre-season training camp, he impressed senior players and coaches by bagging a hat-trick in an intra-squad training match.

When handed his first senior start in a Carabao Cup second round tie at Barrow, he again took full advantage, netting a treble in front of the TV cameras.

L-R Cameron Archer, Jayden McCalla, Aaron Archer, Lewis Archer, Jordan Archer, Scott Hamilton.

“We didn’t know he was in the squad till the day of the game,” recalls Aaron. “Dudley were playing at Cradley that night and I had my phone with me on the bench, keeping one eye on how he was doing.

“When he scored his third goal I think we were losing the match. A couple of people caught me punching the air. They must have thought I’d gone mad!”

Since Barrow, Cameron has featured in every Villa matchday squad and his unforgettable goal at Chelsea was followed last Saturday with another memorable moment, when he made his Premier League bow late in the 1-0 win at Manchester United.

For all his progress over the last two months, the youngster does not need telling the hard work still lies ahead. Having three older brothers who, to varying degrees, have experienced the cruel side of the sport certainly helps in that respect.

Lewis, currently with Highgate United, was courted by Albion while with Hednesford earlier in his career. Jordan was on Wolves’ books as a teenager before being released and then went four months without pay at Bury before the Shakers went out of business in 2019.

“We know how the game works and we are always giving him advice about what to do and how he should be living,” says Jordan. “Quite often I’ll tell him about some of the mistakes I made, so he doesn’t repeat them.”

“We always support each other,” adds Aaron. “If one is struggling for whatever reason, the others get behind him. We still analyse each other’s games.

“To be fair, I never feel like there is too much to say to Cam because he is a grounded kid anyway. He is humble and has never been big time.

“All we tell him is to keep hungry, every training session. That is something dad installed in us from when we were very young. Make sure you work hard, make sure you are quicker than the other person.”

For now family kickabouts are off the agenda, something which will come as a relief to opponents at Goals in Walsall, who were left battling for second place whenever the brothers and pals Jayden McCalla and Scott Hamilton turned up for the annual five-a-side tournament.

But as he looks to continue making his mark at Villa, Cameron knows his family are firmly by his side.

“He could easily have let his head drop but every time he has had a chance he has taken it,” says Jordan.

“At the moment it is surreal. I was sat watching the Premier League highlights this week and Cam was walking out of the tunnel at Old Trafford, right behind him was Cristiano Ronaldo!

“It is weird in that respect but more than anything it is fantastic. We are all so proud of him.”

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