Driving through Gateshead, Dwight Gayle did a double take and pulled up.
Gayle, having spotted the humble home of non-league side Dunston UTS, got out of his car.
We played against Dunston down at our ground at Stansted, and it was a real eye opener. Even today, I remember the game well. They bullied us out of the game really.Dwight Gayle
The Newcastle United striker took a photograph of the club’s 4,000-capacity home.
Why? Because five years ago, Gayle was in the Stansted side beaten 2-0 by Dunston in a FA Vase tie.
“We played against Dunston down at our ground at Stansted, and it was a real eye opener,” said Gayle, speaking ahead of this afternoon’s home game against Blackburn Rovers.
“Even today, I remember the game well. They bullied us out of the game really.
“A couple of months ago, I was out driving and I went past Dunston’s ground. I stopped the car, got out and took a few photos, and sent the pictures to my old manager saying ‘do you remember these?’.
“They bullied us that day, and neither of us have really forgotten.”
Gayle has come a long way since his days in the Essex Senior League.
The 26-year-old, signed from Crystal Palace in the summer for £10million, is the Championship’s leading scorer with 13 goals.
Next season, Gayle, released as a teenager by Arsenal bceause of his size, could well be back in the Premier League.
Gayle, however, feels his convoluted route to the top, which also took him to Bishop’s Stortford, Dagenham & Redbridge and Peterborough United, has grounded him.
“It definitely makes you appreciate things more,” said Gayle. “I was working for a lot of years before I turned professional, and that experience makes you understand a bit more about life.
“Maybe I appreciate things a bit more now. Just coming from the pitches I used to play on, and the freezing cold nights when you could barely feel your feet, you have a special kind of feeling about what you’ve got now.
“Every time I come in to training, I’m buzzing about being able to use facilities like this.
“It makes you so happy to come into work every day, and playing in front of 52,000 people is a bit of a dream come true coming from playing in front of 500 if I was lucky when I was starting out.”
Gayle almost gave up on his dream.
“If I’m being totally honest, I’d pretty much given up on turning pro,” he said.
“I don’t think I’d totally given up on the dream, but I’d accepted that it probably wasn’t going to happen.
“At the time, I was playing in the Essex Senior League, so to say I’d eventually be playing in the Championship would have been ridiculous, really.
“It’s such a big leap that if you’d told me that back then, I would have laughed. I would have thought it was crazy, and I had pretty much given up.
“I was playing for the enjoyment at that stage, and to be fair, after a tough few years, I really started to love playing football again.
“I think the moment it all changed was when I went to Peterborough. I remember finding out that I was going there on loan (from Dagenham), and I was shocked, really.
“That was the big step for me. I thought I was doing alright at Dagenham, but I didn’t even think I was doing that great there.
“But suddenly I was getting a chance in the Championship, and instead of playing in front of 2,000 at Dagenham, I was suddenly playing front of 15 or 20,000. That was the big change for me and the moment I could tell things were really changing.”
Things have kept on changing for Gayle, who took a life-changing phone call from Rafa Benitez in the summer.
“I think, in fact I know, I made the right decision coming to this club,” he said.
“Getting the chance to play with Rafa has been fantastic.
“He’s developing me into the player I want to be.”