Connor was a star at 11

EVEN at the tender age of 11, Connor Wickham was clearly destined for great things.

Billy Holland played alongside Connor as the pair progressed through Ipswich Town’s Academy, and he remembers that the striker stood out even at a very early age.

“Connor joined from Reading in the under-12s, and straight away he looked like he was going to make it. He was already big and strong, and he knew how to use his strength to hold off defenders.’’

Midfielder Billy was at Town’s Academy from the age of nine to 13, and he recalls that Connor was always a huge goal threat. “He was always someone who would be available to help us relieve the pressure if we were playing one of the top teams, like Arsenal or Chelsea. Connor was always our top scorer, our main goal threat.’’

But Billy said that Connor wasn’t just about strength and power. “Just being strong isn’t enough if you want to be a professional footballer, and Connor always had brilliant technical ability to go with his power. He was a quiet lad, although always happy to join in with the banter.’’

Billy was released by Ipswich Town on his 13th birthday – which he describes as a “very bad day.’’ Now, when he watches as Connor grabs the headlines as he did when scoring a brilliant winning goal in the final of the European under-17 Championships, Billy admits to having mixed emotions.

“I suppose there’s a little bit of jealousy, because I know I used to play with him, but mostly it’s great to see a former team-mate playing at such a high level.’’

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Billy now captains the Ipswich-based St Johns under-17 side, who finished runners-up in the South Suffolk Youth League under-18 division last season.

His father, Andy, who manages the St Johns team, remembers how Connor stood out as an 11-year-old. “The thing I remember most was how he could hit a ball – it was unbelievable. He was only a boy, but he had the strength of a man. He’s really learned how to use that strength – look at the way he shrugged off experienced defenders to score his goal at Newcastle.’

Andy, a lifelong Town fan, is in no doubt about where he sees Connor’s immediate future. “Keane should definitely hang on to him – and invest a few million in a quality striker like Michael Chopra to play alongside him!’’

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