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Rooney born to score goals

Saturday 3 November 2012 18.52 CET
Wayne Rooney (England U17 2002)

The Jeffrey Humble Playing Fields is a name that will not mean much to anybody beyond junior and amateur footballers living in an unfashionable stretch of north Liverpool.

It is home to ten pitches and is grassroots football at its most basic. The changing rooms were burned down earlier this year and it stands open to the elements – which meant a blustery wind on the day I visited this week.

Being there provided a reminder that every footballer's journey has a starting point. It was on these same pitches, after all, that an eight-year-old Wayne Rooney took his first significant step on a road that has led him to many of the most celebrated stadia in world football – including the Luzhniki, Stadio Olimpico and Wembley for three UEFA Champions League finals.

I had gone along with a French TV reporter curious to retrace Rooney's first steps and we met Bob Pendleton, who helps run the 50-team Walton & Kirkdale Junior Football League, and – more significantly to our tale – was the scout who took Rooney to his boyhood team, Everton FC.

When you think of the sums of money that later led Rooney to Manchester United FC, and of the glittering career that has unfolded, it was amusing to hear just how Bob came to spot "young Wayne", as he calls him.

One Sunday, Bob realised that the manager of Rooney's then team, Copplehouse Juniors Under-11s, had not paid their match fee of £1.50 – a sum equivalent to €1.90 that goes towards paying the referee – and so he walked over to the pitch where they were playing.

What he saw was a player who did not just run with the ball like many skilful schoolboys. "He passed the ball and expected the ball back," he recalled. Once inside the penalty box, though, there was no passing at all – this, after all, was a kid born to score goals.

Bob explained how he went to speak to Rooney's parents, Jeanette and "big Wayne", and told them he would like to take their son into Everton. They did not need any persuading being Evertonians and so it was that a little boy set out on the path to stardom.

With United facing Arsenal FC today, it seems a fitting recollection given it was against the Gunners that he scored his first Premier League goal, as a 16-year-old for Everton ten years ago.

That was the day Rooney etched his name into the national consciousness in Britain, but if anyone ever decides to make a movie of his life, I would suggest a different opening scene: a shot of Bob Pendleton crossing a windswept field in search of his missing £1.50.

• Staying with United strikers, Robin van Persie went into this weekend's reunion with Arsenal having won more points (nine) for his team with his goals than any other Premier League player this season. Not a bad start to life at Old Trafford for the Dutchman, who duly found the net against his old club.

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