Over two decades have passed, but Bob Pendleton remembers his first glimpse of Wayne Rooney like it was yesterday.
On Long Lane playing fields in Aintree, Pendleton was headed to pitch 2 to collect some unpaid referees’ fees from ‘Big Nev’, the coach of Copplehouse Colts.
With £4.50’s worth of change in his pocket, Pendleton chose to hang around and watch the Under-11s in action. It would prove to be the best decision of his career.
For as well as being the secretary of the Walton and Kirkdale junior league, Pendleton also scouted youngsters for Everton.
Unbeknownst to him, he had come across the young footballer who would go on to become England’s greatest goal scorer.
As Pendleton watched on, Rooney found the net. He was two years younger than his team-mates, but stood head and shoulders above the rest of the players on the pitch.
“Copplehouse had done nothing in the first half of the season but when he signed for them, Jesus, honestly…” Pendleton says before puffing his cheeks out.
“Jimmy Greaves passed the ball into the back of the net and so did Wayne.
“The scores would be about 7-0 and nine times out of 10 he scored four or five of them.
“He got the reputation as being a beast in front of goal.
“There was a vibe going round Liverpool about him. Different lads you knew used to say, ‘Have you got Rooney yet, Bob?'”
Once he had seen him in action, there was no way Pendleton would let this nine-year-old boy go anywhere else but Everton.
Rooney had trials at Liverpool, but it did not feel right for the youngster – mainly because he turned up in his Everton kit.
He was an Evertonian through and through, as were his family. His mother Jeanette and Wayne Snr – or ‘Big Wayne’ as Pendleton calls him – did not want their son crossing Stanley Park to join the red side.
His success continued after signing youth forms with Everton. Two approaches from Sir Alex Ferguson were rebuffed and Rooney went on to star in Everton’s run to the FA Youth Cup final in 2002.
Then, five days shy of his 17th birthday, Rooney scored his first Everton goal against Arsenal – a fierce drive which cannoned in off the underside of the bar.
Pendleton held his emotions together until he saw his two daughters Anne and Mary after the final whistle.
“I walked down the stairs and two of my daughters – Anne and Mary – were crying and then I started crying,” he says.
“I just couldn’t help it because it was such an incredible feeling.”
As Rooney approaches his 30th birthday, pundits and commentators will reflect on the striker’s career. The common view is that Rooney is past his best. That point is probably a fair one. The glimpses of the man who scored 26 goals in 32 league appearances in the 2010-11 season are getting more and more infrequent.
But it’s easy to forget that Rooney has been playing professional football for 14 years.
Another common view that Rooney has not fulfilled his potential as a player is quite simply wrong.
Thirteen years on from scoring the wonder goal against Arsenal that still gives Rooney goosebumps, his trophy room inside his Cheshire mansion is so big it stretches over two floors.
Rooney has five Premier League winner’s medals, he has won the League Cup twice and the Champions League on one occasion.
He has won the PFA player of the year award, the FWA player of the year accolade and has done what Sir Bobby Charlton, Gary Lineker and Jimmy Greaves could not do – score 50 goals for his country.
It is only a matter of time before he scores the 14 goals required to make him United’s greatest marksman.
Louis van Gaal and Roy Hodgson, who have worked with some of the best players of Rooney’s generation and beyond, rate him highly – both as a player and captain.
And the striker has the respect and admiration of his team-mates.
SEE MORE: Wayne Rooney needs a year off from playing.
“You can tell he is a world-class player by what he does in training every day,” says United midfielder Jesse Lingard, who joined the club aged seven.
“He has got goals and he is captain, he leads the team, he sets a great example and we follow him.”
And Rooney gave a timely reminder that he can still cut it in the Premier League when he raced on to Ander Herrera’s pass and scored the final goal in United’s 3-0 win at Goodison Park.
“On Saturday he played him down the middle, and my God he killed us,” said Pendleton, beaming with the same pride he felt when he stumbled upon Rooney 21 years ago.
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