Jack Wilshere was nine years old, plying his trade with Luton when Arsenal first came calling.
Gunners scout Shaun O’Connor had spotted him and, after a brief period of hesitation, Wilshere accepted.
On the last day of the registration window, Jack Andrew Garry Wilshere became a Gooner. And so it has remained ever since.
One of the by-products of supporting one team, then, is the intrinsic dislike of another. For Manchester United, see City; closer to home, those of Blades and Owls persuasion share a city, and a mutual dislike of each other. That is football. One Owls fan I know lives by the mantra: Hate United, Love Wednesday.
So as Wilshere is a self-confessed Arsenal fan - he grew up in a family of West Ham supporters but firmly bleeds red and white, rather than claret and blue - it can be reasonably assumed he has a less-than-favourable opinion on Tottenham Hotspur, their North London rivals.
Well, thanks to his choice of language after taking the microphone on Arsenal’s FA Cup victory parade at the weekend, we now know exactly what Wilshere thinks of Tottenham.
The reaction was almost as inevitable as Piers Morgan launching another anti-Arsene Wenger tirade.
Wilshere, lout of the game; brought shame on Arsenal with his ‘foul-mouthed tirade’, an attack at Spurs, even.
In these pages, this columnist has grown increasingly weary of sweeping generalisations aimed at young footballers and frequent, ridiculous calls to ‘pay them the wages of nurses and soldiers’.
Both this column’s regular readers will attest to that.
And yes, sometimes they do themselves no favours; three Leicester youngsters - including the manager’s son - being sent home from a tour after footage of an orgy emerged, have hardly enamoured the public’s perception of players.
But we can’t have it both ways.
For one, Wilshere’s sing-song was perhaps ill-advised, but was far from a tirade. One newspaper even suggested it had “overshadowed” the club’s second successive FA Cup win.
The only thing more impressive than Arsenal’s dismantling of Aston Villa on Saturday evening, was the speed of indignation and condemnation aimed at Wilshere for having the sheer audacity to celebrate it.
Read the Daily Mail comments section and you’d think that swathes of eight-year-olds were roaming the streets of North London, wearing Wilshere shirts and denouncing Spurs as s**t. You can almost hear Helen Lovejoy, from the Simpsons, pleading for somebody to think of the children.
Modern football has become such a personality vacuum that we long for the days of yesteryear when the game had character, not just contempt. Yes, Wilshere celebrated with a alcohol-fuelled ‘bender’ in a nightclub. He’d just won the FA Cup for the second year in a row, at 23 years of age; who of us would retire home for a quiet cup of tea and an early night?
One imagines it wasn’t a shy and retiring evening in London when George Best and Co. won the 1968 European Cup for Manchester United at Wembley.
That was a different time, of course; no camera phones or risk of being ‘exposed’ as a human being who, actually, rather does like to celebrate success. No keyboard-sycophants feeding on outrage the minute anyone vaguely well-known, does anything remotely human. And no culture of shock and desensitisation; after all, we live in a world where almost 200 people complained to ITV and Ofcom about Amanda Holden’s choice of low-cut dress in the pre-9pm final of Britain’s Got Talent.
Yes, Wilshere’s choice of song and language could have been better. But - considering some of the darker entries from Arsenal fans’ repertoire of anti-Spurs songs, mainly referencing the club’s Jewish community - it could also have been a lot worse. Perspective is key. Which us unfortunate for a game so lacking in it.
True, there were kids present, some of whom worship Wilshere as a “role model” [another candidate for a Room 101 of modern-day, meaningless phrases. One of my childhood heroes was David Beckham but never embraced mohawk haircuts, sarongs and kicking out at Argentinian players on the floor. Read the Daily Mail comments section and you’d think that swathes of eight-year-olds were roaming the streets of North London, wearing Wilshere shirts and denouncing Spurs as s**t. You can almost hear Helen Lovejoy, from the Simpsons, pleading for somebody to think of the children.
Wilshere was thrust into the spotlight at 16, when he became Arsenal’s youngest ever player. The weight of expectation has not lessened in the seven years since, and neither has his passion for his club. So think of Wilshere the next time you hear the latest Spaniard sign for Stoke, and trot out some banal soundbite about how he can’t wait to sample a pottery lesson or something.
Wilshere is Arsenal. As a consequence, he dislikes Tottenham. And at a time when footballers seem further removed from us common folk than ever before, do these kinds of tribalism not deserve to be celebrated rather than condemned?
It is a quote seemingly as old as the games themselves. Some attribute it to Winston Churchill; some to an Apartheid prison guard, as portrayed in the film Invictus.
“Football is a gentleman’s game, played by hooligans. Rugby is a hooligan’s game, played by gentlemen.”
Hard not to remember that line when you compare the reaction to a week of shame for another young England sporting star, Manu Tuilagi.
Tuilagi - at 24, a year older and apparently wiser than Wilshere - was kicked out of England’s rugby union World Cup squad after assaulting two women police officers, and was then banned from driving days later after being clocked on the A1 doing 81mph.
Austin Healey’s reaction, in the Daily Telegraph was, to paraphrase only slightly: Tuilagi is a young man. Young men make mistakes. He’s been punished enough.
Oliver Brown, writing in the same Telegraph pages on Wilshere: “Jack Wilshere’s loutish behaviour begs quesion: How much longer can Arsenal and England trust him?”
A swear word in public, or assaulting two police officers; I know which I’d rather have on my CV. But this is football, remember; and the usual rules seemingly do not apply.