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Jack Payne: Happy to focus on Gillingham future

It was with some relief that Gillingham secured teenage midfielder Jack Payne to a new contract at the start of the season. Just 17, Payne made his first team debut last term and has established himself in manager Mark Stimson's midfield. His form was rewarded in October with a new four year-contract, just a matter of months after signing his first pro deal.

"To be fair it was the easiest thing I've had to think about in my career to date," Payne recalled to tribalfootball.com last week. "I thought it was good when I signed my first deal, but as soon as the manager told me the club wanted to offer me a renewed four-year deal I didn't hesitate. It is where I want to be and I'm loving life with the Gills at the moment."

Payne is fast building an impressive reputation for himself and after being recognised as the club's Player of the Year last season, was attracting interest from clubs higher up the Football League ladder over the summer.

But the midfielder is happy to continue growing at Gillingham and under Stimson's tutelage.

"Ever since I became more prominent with the first team the manager has been fantastic to me. The encouragement and progression I have made since then I've been really pleased with, but I know I am still young and there are a lot of good players around me, so as long as I keep working hard I know the gaffer will make me a better player."

Payne admits he's surprised himself with how quickly he has progressed since turning pro.

"They were similar emotions I went through, but the second one was so unexpected that as soon as I was told I was buzzing. The first one was great too though because I felt really well looked after by the manager at that point because I was in the first year of my scholarship and he didn't have to do it at the time," he says.

He added: "For now I am just thinking about playing for Gillingham. Because of that I don't like to think to far ahead but like any young player I would love to play for England one day."

For now, Stimson is happy for Payne to sit in midfield in a defensive role, though the youngster admits he models his game on Manchester United star Paul Scholes.

Noted for his clever distribution, Payne says: "Paul Scholes has probably been the one player I have always looked up growing up. The way he plays, he's intelligent and uses the ball well and that's something I am forever trying to emulate."

For now, Gillingham are struggling for consistency, though there's great interest in the team's progress due to Canada international striker Simeon Jackson and the likes of loan signings Matthew Fry, the West Ham defender, and Manchester United striker Febian Brandy.

Payne isn't surprised the likes of Wolves manager Mick McCarthy is keen on Jackson and says he's learning everytime he plays with the Canadian.

"The interest in Simeon is well documented and all the boys are aware that he's attracting a lot of clubs. To be fair he's a very level headed guy and the hype around him clearly doesn't effect him as he's been great for us this year," said Payne. "He's getting so much attention at the moment that half the time we just banter about it.

"In my opinion he's one of the best strikers in the league and to be playing with someone like that at my age is great experience. As a midfielder he makes it easy for you, because its easy to pick out a pass to him as he makes the right runs and he's always full of energy."

Fry has just had his loan with the Gills extended and Payne says of the West Ham defender: "Yeah he's done really since he's come in. I knew him quite well before he came in anyway and the lads have taken to him really well so I'm please for him."

And on Brandy, Payne adds: "As soon as he came in he's fitted in with all the lads just like Matty Fry. He's got some frightening pace and really good feet and I think he'll do really well for us."

Along with himself, Payne was joined by senior defender Simon King in signing a new deal earlier this year. Payne is close to King and adds: "Well firstly his name's been changed to Rod Stewart since he's grown his hair! Nonetheless, it was a buzz he re-signed his deal because he's a player I feel I can learn from because he's a great professional and very talented.

"He's full of heart and passion so yeah when he comes back it will be a boost for us. That's taking nothing away from the boys that are playing now though because they've been fantastic."

King's absence has been keenly felt. The defender was outstanding last season and an ankle injury means he won't be seen until the New Year.

For Gillingham, it means others must step up - and given his progress in the last 12 months, manager Stimson knows he can count on Payne to keep things steady as they attempt to climb away from the League One dropzone.

Chris Beattie
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Chris Beattie

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