The story of Borussia Dortmund’s Arsenal man in waiting Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang lining up against a side from High Heaton, Newcastle upon Tyne has been gaining attention again of late, as the frontman’s Premier League looks to finally be happening.

Photo: Reto Stauffer

In case you haven’t heard it, The Set Pieces took up the tale on their site:

In July 2012, Geoff Walker received a very unexpected text.

It was Derek Thompson, manager of Heaton Stannington FC. Thompson had just got off the phone to Nobby Solano’s agent, who had asked if the club could help out some friends of his.

“Derek just said, ‘Gabon, the Olympic team are here, for the Olympics,”’ says Geoff, who was Thompson’s assistant at Heaton Stannington. “They’ve been looking for a warm-up game.”

Newcastle United were busy, and their Under-21 team were away. Heaton Stan were next on the list. With Geoff on board, Derek then phoned captain, centre-back and junior tennis coach Joe Wear. Joe was resting up at home when he got the call.

“It was a bit random, really,” Joe recalls. “It was literally the night before.”

Joe was preparing to run the Great North 10k the following morning, so at first he was reluctant. But Derek explained the situation.

“It’s Gabon,” said Derek.

“Who’s Gabon?” asked Joe.

“They’re playing in the Olympics at St James’ Park and they want a friendly.”

“Oh right. Cool.”

“We didn’t have our best team, to be honest,” says Geoff when we meet in Grounsell Park’s brick changing rooms before Heaton Stan’s game against Blyth Town.

That season, the team had faced the likes of Ashington Colliers, Ponteland United and Harraby Catholic Club on the way to winning the Pin Point Recruitment Northern Alliance League Premier Division. But suddenly Geoff had to pull together a team of factory workers, lawyers and block paving-layers – some of them quietly hungover from the previous evening – to play Gabon.

“Your classic non-league team – a mixture of all sorts,” says Joe.

Football was one of the five sports Gabon entered at the 2012 Olympics. Their squad included a 23-year-old Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, who had just banged in 16 goals for Saint-Étienne in the French top flight. A year later, the striker would join Borussia Dortmund for €13 million, scoring 120 goals in his first four seasons at the club.

Around 24 hours after Derek had first called Geoff to raise the idea, he and the rest of the team climbed off the minibus at Grounsell Park, hidden behind an ATS garage, a chippy and a Chinese takeaway in this small suburb of Newcastle.

A shout on the club’s Facebook and Twitter pages, along with Non-League forums, meant that some 400 fans had gathered at the ground, standing under the corrugated plastic roof over the main concrete terrace.

Grounsell Park has been the Stan’s home since 1935 and, while you wouldn’t know it was built on top of a disused quarry at first glance, it isn’t what you would call IAAF-approved either. After a quick look around, though, the Gabon team were happy and the game was on.

Well, nearly. Geoff got word from one of the Gabon team that their talisman, Aubameyang, had a bit of a problem. He had left his boots at the Hilton Hotel in Gateshead, on the other side of the Tyne. So Geoff, Aubameyang, a Gabon security guard and one of the coaches piled into his car as they set off across the city, over the Tyne Bridge, into the hotel and back again.

As Geoff was chatting to the coach on the way back, he could hear some concerned muttering in the back of the car. “We were heading back over the Tyne Bridge and they were talking away in French. The security guy goes, ‘Can we go back?’ They had match balls they wanted to use that were the same balls they were going to use in the Olympics…so we had to go back again!”

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