Payne and Gilbey go from Eclipse to the Stadium MK pitch together

The pair reunited on the pitch in the MK Dons midfield
Alex Gilbey and Jack Payne first played football together as five-year-oldsAlex Gilbey and Jack Payne first played football together as five-year-olds
Alex Gilbey and Jack Payne first played football together as five-year-olds

As five-year-olds in the same team together, Alex Gilbey and Jack Payne had dreams of playing professional football. Fast-forward to modern day, and they are getting to do that every week again at MK Dons.

The pair first crossed paths playing for Eclipse in Dagenham, where Gilbey admitted “Payney was a lot better than me,” in those early days. Since then, they have never been out of touch.

While Payne went through the system at Southend, Gilbey was 40 miles away at Colchester, both quickly establishing themselves as EFL regulars.

Despite being in and around each other professionally, the pair had only crossed paths seven times, but that looked to change when Payne signed for Charlton in 2022.

“We were both together at Charlton, but that overlapped for only a few weeks,” Payne said, with Gilbey then loaned out to Stevenage. “We were both gutted about it, and thought it wasn't meant to be. I think we got one game together there.”

A year later though, they would get a proper reunion when Graham Alexander signed both for MK Dons.

Gilbey said: “It's amazing. Me and Jack are really close. When you're out there with one of your best mates, it makes it a lot easier. He knows I've got his back and he's got mine.”

“He's a proper leader, he's someone you want on your team,” Payne said of Gilbey. “Even in training, he's got that presence. You hear him before you see him. He's the sort of player you want on the pitch, someone who can make a difference.”

And from those London beginnings as children, Payne, on loan from Charlton, said the odds were stacked against them to reunite.

“To both become professionals is one thing, but to play together is unbelievable,” Payne continued. “We've got a second chance here, and we're starting every week with each other, it's an honour, it's emotional, it's a really nice feeling.

“Our dads know each other, our families are close, and we stayed in touch all the time. We always kept in contact, when I was coming through at Southend and he was at Colchester, we'd go on holiday together, have spent loads of time together.

“Even now, I stay at his house in the week, I'm close with his partner and daughter, it's an amazing story.”