It began as a seventeen year old, scoring on his Tooting and Mitcham United debut, ensuring his side snatched a 1-1 draw at Hendon.

It progressed through the Football League and finally into the Premier League with West Ham United.

That journey went via Reading, Sheffield Wednesday and Nottingham Forest, with temporary stops at Cheltenham Town, Southampton and Colchester United thrown into the mix.

Now the remarkable journey of Michail Antonio has reached a new destination as he was called up into Sam Allardyce’s first England squad.

But for those that witnessed the fledgling days of Antonio’s career, there was never any doubt that the winger would go on to achieve great things.

Terrors chairman Steve Adkins was there to see Antonio progress from Tooting and antonio englandMitcham United Juniors into a senior career with the club.

That debut goal at Hendon was the first of thirty three goals in just forty five Terrors appearances during the 2007/08 season for England’s newest star.

That form grabbed the attention of some of the Premier League’s elite, leaving Adkins in no doubt that Antonio’s Terrors career would be a short one.

A move to Reading followed, although he did return to the club for a loan spell, scoring seven goals in nine games in 2009.

Now an established Premier League star with West Ham United, Antonio is set to make his England debut in their opening World Cup 2018 qualifier in Slovakia this weekend.

Adkins lauded the Wandsworth-born winger, describing him as “the guy next door”, admitting that it was always a case of when, not if he would make it into the professional game.

He said “It was really clear that he was special when he was a teenager here.

“There were expectations, there were scouts from the likes of Chelsea and Arsenal looking at him, we all knew it was a matter of when not if he would make it into the professional game.

“There was no ego, he is down-to-earth and even after he went through the professional steps he would come down to the club to do some personal training between seasons.

“You can see when he helps the kids down here even now, he is a natural, he is the guy next door and being a professional, with all that he has achieved, he has never changed”

Adkins believes that Antonio’s call-up to the England squad sends out a positive message to the local community.

The Terrors have an impressive set-up, with juniors sides from eight years old upwards and an educational academy for their players from eighteen years old upwards.

tooting mitcham fcThat provides the local community with an outlet to enjoy the game and to find a way into football, no matter what their age is.

Adkins is hopeful that more players can come through the system and make a career out of football and he hopes that Antonio’s England call-up will inspire generations of young players.

“I don’t want to say it is once-in-a-lifetime because I hope we can do it again” said Adkins.

“But it is massive for the club for many reasons.

“It’s not just about saying Michail Antonio started his career here at Tooting and Mitcham United.

“We are a community club, we can’t compete with professional clubs but we do have very, very good facilities.

“That has been well supported by the Football Foundation, the local authorities and the county and national Football Association.

“We are in a poor part of Merton and we have lots of different teams at the club from seven year old upwards.  We have educational academies and these give kids a chance to come to football later on.

“There is a way through without being picked up and we see kids from South London coming through the system.

“Mickail has proved that there is a chance to come through late and be successful, it sends an important message to young players and people in our local community”

Sam Allardyce’s first England squad contains three players that began their careers in non-league.Vardy

Antonio is joined by Manchester United defender Chris Smalling, a player that made his senior debut with Maidstone United.

And of course, there is Leicester City’s Jamie Vardy.

The striker bounced back from the disappointment of his release from Sheffield Wednesday and forged a fine reputation in the non-league game.

Impressive spells with Stocksbridge Park Steels and FC Halifax Town led to a move to Fleetwood Town, before he became non-league football’s first £1m transfer as he joined Leicester City.

Now a Premier League winner and looking forward to a Champions League campaign with the Foxes, Vardy is a key part of the England set-up.

The successful rise of both Vardy and Antonio comes from their “tough” non-league grounding according to Adkins, as he looks forward to seeing two former non-league stars linking up for the Three Lions on Saturday.

“Let’s put it this way; wouldn’t you love to see Jamie Vardy and Michail playing together for England?

“You look at the journey they have been on, everything they have done since playing in non-league.

“I saw Michail score against Manchester City on Sunday and it’s just different.

“Vardy is the same, they want it and I am not saying other players don’t want it but maybe because of their roots they want it more.

“Sometimes when a player has been through the non-league system, where it is a bit tougher, they take something with them and I like to think we have played a part in that with Michail.          

Interview: Mark Carruthers (@marknldaily)


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