SACRIFICE, hard work and having that competitive edge.

That’s the key to becoming a professional footballer, according to Chiseldon talent Joseph Tomlinson – who has just signed a one-year deal to play for Brighton U23s.

The Wiltshire lad first tasted success on the field aged five when playing for Wroughton.

Now, 12 years on, Tomlinson is reaping the rewards of his endeavour as he stakes his claim for a spot in the Premier League with the first team under manager Chris Hughton.

While his work is far from done – in fact it’s only just beginning – Tomlinson’s signature on the dotted line at Brighton is the result of a childhood full of personal challenges and drive.

It’s the side to a professional footballer many do not consider.

Tomlinson explained: “I love being around my teammates, but at the end of the day, you are fighting against them for a contract.

“I enjoy that element because I’m very competitive, so going against my teammates is something I like.

“I became friends with them, but at the same time, knew on the pitch I was going up against them as well.”

A former pupil at Chiseldon Primary School, Tomlinson was forced to mature from an early age after being scouted by Southampton at the age of six.

After spending nine years with the Saints – living in Hampshire two or three days a week – the club felt he had to develop physically before he could progress in his career.

His release resulted in the teenager moving home to Yeovil, where he was to spend two years playing full-time with the Glovers.

Now he’s packing his bags again for the coast and Brighton – making it his third major move as an individual despite being just 17.

“When I first had to move to Southampton for two or three nights a week, it was quite hard,” said Tomlinson.

“But you get used to it. I had to move to Yeovil full-time, which again was hard at the start, but a few months in, it’s no problem.

“Now I’m going to have to move to Brighton, but you get used to it and know you have to do it if you want to become a footballer.”

While Tomlinson’s friends have their minds set on a degree at university, the Seagulls man will continue to make a living from the sport he first started as a toddler.

Pushing for a spot in Hughton’s first team is what he already has on his long-term radar.

“My friends definitely say to me they’re jealous. But they’re very happy for me,’’ he added.

“They’ve been through everything with me – Southampton, Yeovil and now this. They’ve been there all the way and offered support, so I’m happy for that.

“Short-term I want to aim for a starting place in the U23s. From there, I’ll make sure my performances are good and look to train with the first team.

“The facilities and club are fantastic. It’s a great time at the club, so for them to want me, I couldn’t quite believe it.”

Brighton’s U23 coach Simon Rusk said: “We are delighted to welcome Joseph to the club.

“He is a talented young defender who has progressed well at Yeovil, and will strengthen our defensive options going into the new season.

“I am looking forward to seeing how he progresses, and we are keen to contribute towards his future development as a footballer.”