ANTHONY Elanga’s debut appearance and first goal for Manchester United’s first team raised cheers in Hattersley as people remembered how they brought him through.
It also sparked memories that had the weather been better, he could easily have been playing for Hyde United’s juniors.
Elanga, who was born in Sweden, made his United bow against Leicester City, who would go on to win the FA Cup, on Tuesday, May 11.
He also made United’s 26-man squad for the Europa League final in Gdansk, Poland.
Just seeing him on the Old Trafford pitch brought smiles to the faces of officials at Hattersley FC, where he was first spotted after moving to Hyde from Sweden.
In the final Premier League match of the season, on Sunday, May 23, he went one better by finding the net at Wolves.
However, he remains in touch with where it all started by paying the £80 fee for Hattersley FC to play a match at Alder Community High School after their own pitch was waterlogged.
However, had things been different, he may never have joined them after settling in Hyde town centre with mum Daniella and sisters Sandra and Chanelle in 2013.
Once the son of former Cameroon international defender Joseph Elanga joined in at the Ken Ward Centre, though, it soon became clear the then 11-year-old Hyde High School pupil was something special.
Ian Forder, who was in charge of the side at the time, told The Correspondent: “Anthony came to Ken Ward to look at Hyde United, who normally trained on the next set of cages to us.
“I could see that he was with his mother and looked rather lost. I just approached him and said, ‘Can we help you?’ He asked if we were Hyde United.
“I said, ‘No, we’re Hattersley. Hyde normally train on this next pitch but they’ve not turned up. Where do you live?’
“He said he lived in Hyde, so I went, ‘Look, rather than have a wasted journey, come and train with us.’
“He put his boots on and came on. Ten minutes later I’m handing signing on players to his mother!
“It really was a cold and wet night then in January. I truthfully believe that’s why Hyde never turned up so it was their loss. It can be cold in September there!
“But I wasn’t letting him go after those 10 minutes. When his mother returned the forms and I saw his age, I thought, ‘I’m not letting you go, lad. You won’t be here long.’”
Anthony may have been 11-years-old, so qualifying for Hattersley’s Under-12s at the time, but his talent meant he ended up playing in a higher group.
It also started a friendship with businessman John Croke, who runs a carpet shop in Hyde. One that still goes on today and has seen several mementoes passed on.
In just 12 matches, he scored 17 goals and assisted, in Ian’s words, about another 27.
Ian added: “That season we finished second or third in the league, but it was Anthony’s help that pushed us there. Before then, we were mid-table.”
But no-one is surprised at seeing him make it all the way to United boss Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s first team plans.
Although it was the blue half of Manchester that first showed interest.
Ian, 62, who lives in Hattersley, continued: “I had the U14s team then and I really shouldn’t have played him, but I wasn’t going to let him play for anyone else.
“I knew he wasn’t going to be with us for long. Straight away I could tell he had something, he was outstanding.
“He picked the ball up in his own half, went past seven players, around the goalkeeper and side-footed it in.
“But he had total control of the ball in that movement. It never went more than six inches from his foot. I turned to John and said, ‘Did you just see that?’
“And despite the physical difference between 12 and 14-year-olds, he lived with them. He had the speed and he had the knowledge of the game at such an early age.
“You have to see some of the assists to believe them. He’d beat the goalkeeper then he’d see a team-mate at the far post and he’d pass to him.
“He wasn’t greedy at all when at that age you just want to score and score.
“City showed interest at first and he had a few training sessions with them but one of the parents, Martin Coyne, was a scout, looked at him and contacted United’s chief scout.
“He looked at him. I think it was an 8-1 defeat, but Anthony was outstanding.
“John helped Anthony a lot when he first signed schoolboy forms as his mother didn’t drive and he was getting him to The Cliff and back for training.
“He still keeps in contact with him and has one of his shirts hung up at his shop.
“Anthony played a tournament with United in Majorca with the likes of Barcelona, Real Madrid and Majorca’s own team and he got player of the tournament.”
Wearing the number 56 shirt, the man himself played 66 minutes of United’s 2-1 defeat, which actually handed City the Premier League title.
But after getting one taste, he got more and scored in the 13th minute at Molineux – now he wants to play at Old Trafford with his family in the stands.
Anthony said after his first appearance: “It felt amazing, it was a dream come true for me and my family and I really enjoyed it. I felt confident and good as I’d worked hard for it. It was a case of just go on the pitch and enjoy myself.
“It makes me hungry and want to work even harder in training. All the senior players helped, it gave me that confidence boost I needed.
“It’s been a brilliant season for me and I’d have loved to have had my mum and my sisters there. Hopefully they can watch me play soon enough.”
A proud Hattersley FC chairman Gareth Howell said: “Hattersley FC is extremely proud to be a part of Anthony’s journey from grassroots to the professional game. It is a privilege to be a part of the development Anthony has gone through and is continuing to do so.
“Anthony also heard about our first team having to hire an Astroturf pitch for a game that would otherwise have been called off and kindly paid the pitch fee of £80.”