England's Schoolboy Superstars: Then and Now


DAVID BECKHAM                             

Prodigy Credentials: 11-year-old Becks wowed the nation with his keepy-uppy on Blue Peter after winning a Bobby Charlton Soccer Skills competition in 1986. Won the FA Youth Cup with Man Utd and represented England at youth level before turning pro at Old Trafford.

Final Report: Captained England to two World Cups on his way to 115 international caps. Has won a whole host of domestic trophies in England and Spain and a European Cup as well as doing the odd bit of promotional work away from football too. 

Grade: A+ 

JERMAIN DEFOE

Prodigy Credentials: A product of the famous Senrab FC in East London, Defoe banged goals in at every England age group while residing at Lilleshall, the FA’s former National Development School. Poached by West Ham from under the noses of Charlton, aged 15, Defoe then made headlines as a 17-year-old on loan at Bournemouth, where he scored in ten consecutive Football League games. 

Final Report: Burst onto the scene at West Ham, and has been one of the Premier League’s top strikers ever since, genuinely fulfilling his potential. Has a fair record for England, and will be on the plane to Poland and Ukraine this summer.  

Grade: A

GLEN JOHNSON

Prodigy Credentials: The brightest light in a shining academy at West Ham at the turn of the last century, Johnson, a regular centre back in the England youth setup, was the subject of a documentary that built him up as the next Rio Ferdinand. 

Final Report: Having suffered at the hands of Abramovich’s million-pound agenda at Stamford Bridge, Johnson’s career was kick-started in 2006 when he carved a reputation as a potent attacking full back at Portsmouth. Has since nailed down the England right back spot after an £18million move to Liverpool.

Grade: B+ 

CLIVE ALLEN

Prodigy Credentials: The son of a Spurs legend – 1961 double-winning striker Les Allen – Clive inherited his dad’s eye for goal early on, breaking youth goalscoring for Essex Boys in the process. After 32 goals in less than 50 games as a teenager at QPR, the boy wonder got a dream move to Arsenal in 1980.

Final Report: Bizarrely left Highbury after just seven weeks, but recovered to become a legend, like his Dad, at arch rivals Spurs, as well as QPR and Bordeaux. His haul of five England caps didn’t do his talent justice.

Grade: B 

SCOTT PARKER

Prodigy Credentials: A skinny 13-year-old with a rather ghastly ginger bowl-cut, little Scottie Parker was the face of a popular McDonalds advertising campaign during the 1994 World Cup. An England Schoolboy international, Parker later graduated from Lilleshall before signing for Charlton, aged 16. 

Final Report: Scottie regularly stands out in the world’s best league, but in a career blighted by a horrid stint at Chelsea, his England chances have only recently arisen. Captained his country in the las friendly and will be a guaranteed starter at the European Championships.

Grade: C+ 

WAYNE HARRISON

Prodigy Credentials: A child phenomenon honed at Oldham, Harrison was setting the Athletic youth team alight when Liverpool shocked everyone, not least Oldham boss Joe Royle, with a world record £250,000 bid for the teenager in 1985. He swiftly moved to Anfield amidst a sea of media attention just after his 17th birthday.

Final Report: Started brightly in Liverpool’s reserves but a bizarre accident – he crashed through a greenhouse and almost died through loss of blood – triggered a long series of injuries that he never recovered from. Retired in 1991, aged 22. Last seen driving a HGV Van for Robinson’s Brewery in Stockport.

Grade: D– 

HUNG DANG 

Prodigy Credentials: A Vietnamese boat-boy, Hung arrived on a Taunton council estate at the age of seven after fleeing the communist regime of his homeland. Beat 10,000 hopefuls to be crowned Bobby Charlton’s national soccer skills champion in 1985 and consequently joined Lilleshall’s fledgling national school. Bagged both goals in a 2-1 England Schoolboys victory live on national TV in 1987. Signed for Spurs later that year. 

Final Report: Suffered a severe stress fracture in his spine shortly after arriving at White Hart Lane. Never played professional football but recovered to turn out at a local level back in Somerset. 

Grade: E+ 

CHERNO SAMBA                                 

Prodigy Credentials: Came to prominence as a 13-year-old in 1998, after scoring 132 goals in 32 youth team games. Signed by Millwall and carried on his form for England at every age group, sparking a bidding war between Liverpool and Man Utd that went into the millions, yet The Lions resisted the cash. 

Final Report: Never made a first team appearance for Millwall and was released in 2004, six months short of his 20th birthday. Has since made fleeting appearances for Plymouth and Wrexham as well as a number of non-descript European teams. Last seen on the bench at Norwegian 2nd Division also-rans, FK Tonsberg. Destined to be known as a legend on Championship Manager, but not in real life.  

Grade: E 

OWEN PRICE

Prodigy Credentials: Price announced himself with a goal from the halfway line at Highbury in a national schools final of 1999, and later kept Wayne Rooney out of the England Schoolboys team. He impressed Spurs so much they paid Charlton £500,000 for the 14-year-old. Adidas jumped on board too, signing him up to 10-year boot deal. The World was at Owen’s pricey feet.

Final Report: Briefly shone in pre-season friendlies for Tottenham under Jacques Santini, but was released soon after Martin Jol arrived. Later played lower league football in Sweden and Finland and back on home soil for Lewes, Northwich Victoria, and Farnborough Town.

Grade: E- 

SONNY PIKE

Prodigy Credentials: The ultimate child prodigy, Pike seemed to be on TV more regularly than Chris Evans in the ‘90s. He’d been snapped up by Ajax’s prestigious youth academy at the age of seven and was heralded as the future of English football by Blue Peter, Baddiel and Skinner's Fantasy Football, The Big Breakfast and a documentary series called Touched With Fire.   

Final Report: Released by Ajax when his body failed to mature at the same rate as his contemporaries, the pressure became too much and Sonny gave up on his pro dream. Changed his name to Luke Pike upon signing for Waltham Forest in the Ryman League a few years back. Most recently played Sunday League for Dryburgh Saints while studying for a Psychology degree at Dundee University. 

Grade: F