We all grew up dreaming of being professional footballers. School playgrounds turned into Wembley where we scored the winning goal in a massive game. The select few see those aspirations actually become reality. Joe Bryan, in many ways everything a modern football isn’t, wrote himself into Fulham folklore with that fabulous free-kick that beat Brentford in the play-off final and followed it up with a fine second off his weaker right foot for good measure.

But football isn’t all luxury cars and big pay cheques. It can be crushing disappointment – such as relegation – and being jettisoned for a new signing. Long spells on the sidelines or even training by yourself because the new boss doesn’t like you. For young men who have grown up lauded for their gifts, this can be tough to take. Bryan, who has experienced another stop-start season under Marco Silva, has spoken bravely about the ups and downs of his own mental health but it is so typical of the man that he recovered from a difficult night in Derby to star as the Whites wrapped up promotion against Preston North End on Tuesday.

The left back puzzle is still one that Silva has to solve over the summer – and it is entirely possible that the bubbly Bristolian and Antonee Robinson might have more competition by the time the Premier League campaign gets underway. But Bryan’s assets have always been his desire, epitomised by whole-hearted displays, and the consistency of his service for Aleksandar Mitrovic with that lovely left foot. In the Scott Parker promotion season, he found the Serbian with a succession of wonderful whipped crosses. In midweek, there was a different route to goal. Bryan’s tenacity saw him win possession back high up the left flank, burst out of a couple of challenges and split the retreating North End defence with a deliciously disguised pass. Mitrovic couldn’t miss – and the simplicity of the opener settled plenty of nerves around Craven Cottage.

That Bryan rose to the big occasion shouldn’t be a surprise. He was a regular goalscorer as his boyhood club Bristol City raced to the League One title in 2015 and lifted the Football League Trophy at Wembley. Bryan, who made 230 appearances for the Robins, memorably gave them the lead in a magical League Cup quarter-final win over Manchester United at Ashton Gate. No Fulham fan needs reminding of Bryan’s capacity to deliver on the big stage given how he settled the play-off final against our local rivals by embarrassing David Raya with a perfectly placed 40 yard set piece and, when plenty of people would have been content to hold the ball in the corner, racing up the left wing to play and give-and-go with Mitrovic that made sure of a place in English football’s elite.

Much is made of the mystique of the dressing room – a place supporters only read about after the fact in autobiographies or tabloid snippets. All successful sides are made up of a collection of diverse characters, with the stories often surrounding the talkers or extroverts who gee up their team-mates. Just as crucial are the unflappable constants who can take the rough with the smooth. The past couple of years have been tough for everyone and Bryan spoke revealingly on the eve of this season about how much he was looking forward to seeing a packed Craven Cottage again.

I’ve been fortunate enough to snatch a few seconds with Joe at Motspur Park whilst working on a couple of projects for the Fulham fanbase and various charities. He’s very different to some of the footballers I’ve encountered: erudite, thoughtful, compassionate and engaging. He is a credit to our special football club. I’m very glad he dashed down the motorway to join us ahead of Aston Villa a few years ago – and I hope he is too.