Dominic Calvert-Lewin’s bullying of the Welsh defence on his England debut was a performance that was forged in the country’s lower leagues, according to those who watched and played against him in the National League North.
England’s new hero took his first step in the adult game with Stalybridge Celtic and while he had bags of talent, fans, coaches and even opponents say the experience turned him into the tough competitor that proved too strong for the Welsh on Thursday.
Those who met Calvert-Lewin in his Stalybridge days were glued to their televisions for the home international, willing the lad from Sheffield to do well, and they were not disappointed.
Dominic Calvert-Lewin was toughened up by a loan spell at Stalybridge Celtic aged just 17
Calvert-Lewin was a hit at Stalybridge Celtic after he fired two goals against rivals Hyde United
Among them was Alex McQuade, 27, who was centre-half for Hyde United on a wet and windy Boxing Day when Stalybridge Celtic visited for the Tameside derby six years ago – and Calvert-Lewin made his debut on loan from Sheffield United.
‘I heard he was on loan so I thought I would let him know early on that this wasn’t U18s football,’ said McQuade, whose close attentions to the gangly 17-year-old resulted in Calvert-Lewin getting a black eye. ‘I thought I would have him.
‘But he was better than that. He was different gravy, even at that age. After 15 minutes I knew I was in a game and I had to do anything I could to put him off.’
Watching as England’s Calvert-Lewin took on the Welsh defence and scored after 25 minutes, McQuade could see the same traits in the striker’s game that he did on that night back in 2014.
‘It was typical of him,’ said McQuade, who admits to being a Manchester United fan. ‘I was really pleased for him. He has come through the ranks and who knows where it could go.
‘He was never going to miss that chance. I knew he would score and it looked easier than it was. A lot of strikers would have been affected by the keeper coming but he was brave.’
That bravery was also on show at Ewen Fields, home of Hyde United.
McQuade, who works for an IT management company, doesn’t remember the clash that gave the England man a shiner and even Stalybridge fans shrug it off as ‘just a fifty-fifty’. There is no quarter asked or given in non league.
Former opponent, centre-half Alex McQuade, thought Calvert-Lewin was brave to remain focused on the ball despite the goalkeeper Wayne Hennessey coming towards him
Centre-half McQuade, pictured playing for Bolton U23s, gave Calvert-Lewin a tough debut in the National League North, but admires the striker for rising through the ranks
But the physicality of his first senior game shook up Calvert-Lewin and he looked towards the bench in the hope they would take him off, as his eye swelled and closed.
What happened next has gone down in Stalybridge folklore and was locals believe, a critical moment in Calvert-Lewin’s development as an elite footballer.
‘His eye closed up, but the physio said ‘stay on’,’ recalls club secretary Andrew Betts. ‘Once he took that whack he realised what he was in for. He’s thought, ‘this is it, I have to get on with it’.’
Carlo Ancelotti, the internationally renowned Everton coach, may have honed Calvert-Lewin into the penalty-box predator he is today, but arguably, Dave Pover, the Stalybridge physio made a man of him.
Calvert-Lewin has become a penalty-box predator under Everton manager Carlo Ancelotti
‘He gave everything for us’ added Betts. ‘Stalybridge fans admire him more than anything else.
‘When he went back to his club, he still came to watch the next two matches. One of them was at Stockport and he sat in the away end. We are all paying attention to what is going on and we always keep an eye out for him.’
The experience of the first half at Hyde had a huge impact on the young striker and he tore into the opposition in the second, and scored twice to the delight of the Celtic fans, who made the five-mile journey home in high spirits after a 4-2 win.
There was even better to come in the return fixture at Stalybridge a week later.
Fireworks crackled above the Bower Fold ground that night as New Year’s Day revelry extended into the evening and there were pyrotechnics on the pitch, too.
So far this season Calvert-Lewin has netted 10 times,including six goals in the Premier League
The games was balanced at 1-1 half-time, but in an incredible second half that will never be forgotten by Celts’ fans, Calvert-Lewin ran amok, scored one, made four and the home team won 7-1.
‘I have been going since I was five and it is the best 45 minutes I have ever had as a Celtic fan,’ said Keith Trudgeon, 59. ‘Calvert-Lewin absolutely destroyed Hyde that night. They could not put a finger on him.
‘He ran the game from centre-forward.It was obvious there was a star in the making.”
The Stalybridge player-manager, Keith Briggs, couldn’t believe it either and is simply thrilled that Calvert Lewin has taken his ability to the international stage.
‘Dominic was unbelievable that night in a big derby. I have not seen a performance like that. He tore Hyde to shreds. He was fantastic,’ recalled the boss.
Stalybridge Celtic credited Calvert-Lewin with keeping them in National League North in 2015
Celtic fans credit Calvert-Lewin’s cameo of four appearances, four goals and four assists as critical in their survival battle that season. He galvanised them and they will never forget it.
Meanwhile, Briggs sat in front of his TV beaming with pride.
‘He was very impressive,’ said the boss following England’s comfortable 3-0 win over Wales.
‘He should be delighted. I am. I only played a small part, but to see someone you have coached play for England, it’s brilliant. His family must be so proud.’
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