Inside the Hebburn production line that has produced Manchester United starlet Shola Shoretire plus Sunderland, Leeds and Norwich trio Bali Mumba, Dan Neil and Sam Greenwood
When Manchester United introduced their latest prodigious talent into the Premier League in their home win against Newcastle United last month, there was a sense of satisfaction in a little corner of South Tyneside.
Another one off the Hebburn production line.
There has been a buzz around Shola Shoretire long before he made the maiden senior appearance of a highly promising career when he replaced Marcus Rashford in the latter stages at Old Trafford.
Shoretire laid claim to a notable piece of Red Devils history just days after his cameo at The Theatre of Dreams when he became the youngest ever player to feature in a European fixture when he replaced Mason Greenwood in the Europa League last-16 second leg against Real Sociedad.
The 17-year-old forward grew up in the North East and honed his talent at a number of junior set-ups, including Hebburn Town, Wallsend Boys Club and Newcastle City Juniors, before moving to Manchester at the tender age of 10.
There has been hype around the player since the age of just 14, he became the youngest player to make an appearance in a UEFA Youth League against Valencia in 2018.
It has come as no surprise to Hebburn, though. As a six-year-old, he stood out even then in the yellow and black of the Hornets with his quick feet, attitude and trickery with the ball at his feet.
“He had great ability," said director of football Stephen Rutherford.
“What impressed us was that he worked hard, he wanted to improve, his technical ability was outstanding.
“We are very proud to have played a part in his development."
A great future beckons for the winger, but his isn't the only career being closely followed by Hebburn Town. In fact, he is just the latest in a line of success stories.
Talented midfielder Dan Neil helped Sunderland reach the Papa John's Trophy final at Wembley this weekend with an impressive performance in the semi-final win over Lincoln City.
Bali Mumba and forward Sam Greenwood both shone at Hebburn before moving to the Academy of Light themselves. Mumba now plys his trade in the Championship with Norwich City, where he is highly-rated by boss Daniel Farke despite injuries having restricted his appearances since his summer move.
Greenwood moved to Leeds United via Arsenal, and is now tearing up the Under-23 (including a hat-trick against his boyhood club Sunderland) so much that he has caught the eye of Marcelo Bielsa and was handed his first-team debut in the FA Cup against Crawley Town in January.
Will Harris is another Hornets graduate that has moved into the pro game after he joined Sunderland from Premier League club Burnley in August last year.
There are a number of other bright prospects in the Hebburn youth sides that have captured the attention of professional clubs and Rutherford is keen to see more youngsters follow the example set by the likes of Mumba and Neil.
The club’s senior side have also helped a player progress into the professional game in a season where they have lost just one of their 12 league games to move six points clear at the top of the Ebac Northern League table.
After scoring 22 goals in 16 games in all competitions, forward Cedwyn Scott captured the attention of Newcastle United, where he had a six-week trial, and Sunderland before securing a contract until the end of the season at SkyBet League Two club Carlisle United. He was handed his debut last week off the bench against Colchester.
The club is clearly flourishing across the age groups.
“The fruits of our labour and commitment are starting to show,” Rutherford explained.
“Bali, Sam, Dan, Will and Shola are showing what can happen if you put the hard work in alongside that talent.
“We are very proud of Cedwyn moving on to Carlisle from our first team too, we can’t forget him.
“There is great pride in seeing what they are doing, and they are the example we want all of our younger players to follow.
“They are showing everybody involved with our junior teams that you can make it happen if you are willing to work hard.”
The youth setup – which currently consists of over 600 players in 56 teams across 13 age groups - has played a key role in the redevelopment of the club since they were hauled back from the brink of going out of business four years ago.
An appeal for support was met by new owners and changes on and off the pitch have included the creation of an official link between both sides of the club.
With the senior side having reached the FA Vase final at Wembley, and eyeing promotion up through the football pyramid, progress is being made on all fronts – but Rutherford insisted that the hard work is only just getting under way as they look to continue progressing the club and the youth structure.
He added: “We are open about where we are as a club and although the senior side is over 100 years old, our junior setup is fairly young. We didn’t start until 2003.
“There are other clubs in the region that are renowned for developing players, but we are starting to bring players through.
“Hopefully, we can keep that going and get a few more players through into the professional game.
“We all know that the hard work does not stop now, and that attitude has to go right through the club.”