You may have heard the name Lewis Neilson in recent weeks, after the youngster started Dundee United’s opening game of the season against St Johnstone, but not much else is known about the defender. Ross Wardrop reports.
Lewis was born on the 15th May 2003 in Dundee and, interestingly, grew up next door to former a United player who now plays in the Premier League with Southampton - Stuart Armstrong. It’s therefore unsurprising that Neilson has commented that Armstrong was his motivation as he grew up aspiring to become a professional footballer!
The defender started at DUSC 1984 before joining United at the age of 10, and signed a contract extension at Dundee United, just before the country went into lockdown (on the same day he was called up to the Scotland U17s squad), that will keep him at the club until the end of the 21/22 season.
Away from Dundee, the United academy graduate, who recently changed positions from central midfield, played three games between the U16s & U17s national squads. With two senior appearances for United (at time of writing), it wouldn’t be surprising to see him add to his national caps under head coach Brian McLaughlin.
Andy Goldie, academy director at Tannadice, told YFS exclusively: "Lewis’ transition to full-time football has been nothing short of outstanding.
"In the space of a year he has been training with the first team squad, learning a new position having previously played in midfield, achieved four Higher As and now has two competitive appearances under his belt at 17 years old.
"His progress is testament to his work ethic, sacrifice and commitment to his development both on and off the pitch and highlights the opportunity young players have to develop as people and footballers at Dundee United Football Club."
Lewis' mental attributes have clearly sped up his involvement with the first team - but Andy believes the youngster also has the physical and technical skills required for Premiership level.
"He is a modern day central defender who loves to initiate attacks by stepping into midfield or utilising his passing ability to penetrate, but has also made great progress in his defensive performance working under the mentorship of Mark Reynolds and Mark Connolly.
"He has a taste for First Team Football now and the manager has shown that age is merely a number so there is no limit on what he can achieve here either short or long term if he continue to build on his success so far."
As Andy mentioned, Lewis was one of a number of United players who received their Higher qualifications recently, with the 17-year-old achieving As in English, Business and PE, as well as a B in Maths - which could improve with a successful appeal, to give the former St John’s RC High pupil top marks across the board.
After making his debut against St. Johnstone in the opening game of the Scottish
Premiership season, Lewis said in an interview with DUTV: “It’s excellent to finally get my debut in the way I did, starting in the first game in the Premiership, it’s a great feeling. The exciting part for me is that the gaffer has faith in young players and is willing to give them a chance.”
He also mentioned that he didn’t expect to make his debut after the Tangerines got promoted to the Premiership, and potentially expected to go out on loan before making it but thanked new manager, Micky Mellon, for giving him a chance.
It is also clear that the new gaffer is keen to give Lewis and other academy graduates a chance in the first team - not only playing them in cup games but potentially giving them an opportunity to play in league games.
In his post-match interview, Mellon said: “When the opportunity comes, and I believe it’s the right time, I will put any of them [youngsters] in… We will speak to Lewis next week and say about the areas he has to improve in to keep moving himself forward to be the footballer that we all believe he can be.”
For Neilson, working under a manager like Mellon should suit him and his playing style
massively as he looks to grow as a player and progress further in his footballing career.
Newly promoted Dundee United look to be an exciting side this Premiership season, captained by experienced defender Mark Reynolds, with power up top in Lawrence Shankland and Nicky Clark.
With four points from three games so far, United will be looking to build on an encouraging start. Add to that the inclusion of youngsters and academy graduates Louis Appere, Logan Chalmers, Kieran Freeman, Declan Glass, Chris Mochrie, and Jamie Robson (easy to forget he’s still just 22) and it’s clear to see it’s a good time to be a United fan.