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Wayne Rooney’s return to Everton after 13 years lends a certain romance to a record-breaking career. Here, through the eyes of Bob Pendleton – the former Everton scout who discovered him, we learn about the buzz, the tears and die-hard Goodison roots which go hand in hand with Rooney’s rise and return.
I first saw Wayne Rooney playing on the Jeffrey Humble pitches on Long Lane, Walton. He was nine, and clearly lived for scoring goals. I didn’t think then that this shy young man would become England’s greatest goalscorer, but within two years I was absolutely certain it was going to happen.
Rooney’s name was a talking point around the dozen or so pitches where Liverpool’s Walton and Kirkdale Sunday League was played.
I was there every week for more than 35 years, volunteering in all sorts of roles. On one particular Sunday, I had to amble over to get £4.50 in fees from Copplehouse Boys, who Wayne was playing for at under-11s – two years early.
He lashed a goal in from 20 yards and dribbled for fun, normally passing the ball into the net when he had chances. You could see the satisfaction he got from hitting the net – it poured from him again and again. So small yet so strong, he’d demand the ball back if he ever needed to pass it.
I looked at his manager “Big Nev” and his reply was laced with a smile and hard luck. “Give over, Bob. If you take him to Everton he will be at the academy and won’t be able to play for us. I’ve only just signed him.”
I’ve followed Everton since 1948 week in, week out, and ended up scouting for the club. Of all those years, this day would be one of the most important.
A chat with Wayne’s parents – Wayne Sr and Jeanette – revealed, to my relief, they were Evertonians. His dad had great humour and, naturally, was elated. We agreed young Wayne would come into Bellefield – Everton’s training ground then – on the Thursday. A smooth deal then? Not quite.
‘Liverpool were waiting’
Wayne had already been in to train with Liverpool, and for whatever reason it hadn’t worked. But the buzz had grown and I heard they were going to try and speak to him on the Tuesday, two days before his visit to Everton.
So we moved the Bellefield trip forward 48 hours. I believe Liverpool were waiting to speak to him when they were told exactly where he was.
You can take kids to Bellefield and they go stiff with nerves. These are big places after all. Not Wayne, he was unmoved. He was picking up stray balls and slamming them into the net when we went in.
I spoke to Ray Hall – who was in charge of the club’s youth set-up for many, many years – and said: “You have to sign him.”
Ray wondered if they should take a better look – which is normally what happened – and was curious as to why I was so worked up. I, of course, was fearful Liverpool would try again and I was so determined to get this done.
Joe Royle, manager at the time, was called into the office. I can see it now. Wayne, again unmoved, was sliding down his chair almost under the table.
“Sit up straight,” muttered his dad, who was thrilled to speak to Joe.
All credit to Ray for trusting me. Yet in that office, on that key night, Wayne was the same as he always was at that age. Shy, and distracted by anything shaped like a ball. But, let’s be clear, that shyness evaporated when he walked onto any pitch.
Score today? ‘Yeah, six…’
The young man took to Everton rapidly. There were a few who thought he wasn’t listening when instructions were being given, as he’d be kicking the ball in the air and all sorts, but then he’d go out and do what was being asked, so he soon showed them.
Quite early on he scored an overhead kick past a young Manchester United side with Kasper Schmeichel in goal. It’s still talked about to this day – apparently every parent there clapped. These stories were relayed to me at the time and I’d just be made up for his parents. By 11-12 he was flying, that touch of something special just came with him, and when he hit one, it would just whistle.
I’m told when Walter Smith became manager he was made aware of this jewel Everton had in the youth set-up. He asked to see him in a game so one was organised and Wayne did the business.
Years later, we were at White Hart Lane in the Youth Cup and he whacked one in from range. Glenn Hoddle and David Pleat turned to the Everton delegation with a look that said, “where did you get him from?”
In his teenage years I’d sometimes wait outside Goodison for him with a couple of complimentary tickets. He’d often be late because of his footballing duties and I’d end up missing the first 10 minutes. “You play today?” I’d ask. Shy again, he’d reply: “Yes.” “Did you score?” Regularly he’d come back with: “Six.” And, tickets in hand, he’d be off in a flash.
Word had spread through the city about him. But there was one way to keep him in line. He worshipped the club’s former player and manager Colin Harvey. If he wasn’t listening, someone would just say: “Right, I’ll tell Colin Harvey then.” Time and again, Wayne would move instantly.
When his professional terms came at 16, I was so happy for him. I took Tony Hibbert to Everton when he was a kid too, and that satisfaction you get is wonderful.
I loved walking through West Derby Village from my house and hearing people talking about them. You’d always get the odd one saying Wayne wouldn’t make it but I’d just say: “As long as he earns a living and puts food on the table for the family, that’s all I’m concerned about.”
‘We were crying our eyes out’
Then, in October 2002, came the Arsenal game – with Everton heading for a draw against a side that hadn’t lost in 30 games.
All of my family are season ticket holders and I had my son Robert next to me, with my wife and girls several rows in front.
In the last minute the ball dropped to Wayne, still only 16, and I said to Robert: “He’ll hit this.” Dear me. Robert’s glasses were hanging off his face as we all went berserk when it hit the net.
I just recall being stunned at what he’d done.
All my family met by one of the exits and as I walked down I could see my daughters’ eyes filling up. I’m an emotional man and we all just cried our eyes out. It was an incredible feeling.
Wayne’s mum popped around the corner too and her face said it all, she was overjoyed. Needless to say, the whole pub wanted to speak to me after the game.
Karaoke, christenings and some career
Within six months of scoring against Arsenal, he was playing for England. It all happened so fast.
When he moved to Manchester United, I told a reporter I was looking forward to the day he would captain them and England. I was certain.
From a young age I just thought he was a leader. Yes, he was shy, but he could just change things on the pitch, showing who was boss. Wayne was always someone you wanted by your side on and off the pitch, and I think that comes down to his family.
Whenever there has been an engagement party or christening, we tend to get an invite. They’ve not forgotten and it’s nice of them.
We were invited to his 18th birthday party in Aintree. You could see how big a deal he was because, from behind a security fence which was bigger than most houses, there were flashing camera lights going off repeatedly. Not that Wayne minded, he was up doing karaoke and his friends were all loving it. ‘The white Pele’ some of them called him.
And his career has just gone on and on. Seeing him run out for England is always a joy, and when he scores for his country I’ll often nod at the TV and say “well done, mate”, safe in the knowledge I can walk through the village and give some stick to any pals who have said he’s not been playing well.
I still get people telling me about the next big thing. “He’s going to be better than Rooney,” they say. And so it goes. My word he has had some career.
‘Welcome home Wayne’
And now he’s home. Some people may not realise that Wayne’s family are not Everton ‘fans’, they are true die-hards.
For a good while now I’ve thought he would come back, as while there were always going to be other options, I felt a return would always be number one.
Knowing what Everton means to him, even with all he has achieved, I don’t believe he will ever have a feeling in football like scoring that goal for his beloved club against Arsenal.
There are those who bring up the fact he joined United, but at that time the deal suited all parties. Each to your own but it’s hard to be critical of a young man who went away and won all that he has. Looking at those trophies must be lovely for him.
I believe Evertonians should be braced for a period of real enjoyment with him back. I think of the young players at the club who may see him poke his head around the corner and grow as a result. He can be to them what Colin Harvey was to him.
On the field, he has so much to give. Last season at United I felt he was doing so much work at times to free some of those around him.
This will be my 70th season of going to Goodison and I can’t wait to hear his name sung again.
A scout once asked me if I was enjoying the fact Wayne had done so well. I said “yes”, and he replied: “Make sure you do because you won’t find another like that.”
That is as true a statement as there is.
Welcome home, Wayne.
Bob Pendleton was speaking to BBC Sport’s Luke Reddy
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