He grew-up within kicking distance of their fiercest rivals but Dominic Calvert-Lewin, Sheffield United’s young centre-forward, always knew where his footballing loyalties lay.
“I’m from Hillsborough but I’ve always been a Blade. My school was 50/50 to be honest. There were plenty of us there. My family are all Blades. It’s a strange feeling playing for club you supported as a boy and, to be honest, it all feels like a bit of a dream.”
Right now, Calvert-Lewin is actually representing Northampton Town having joined the League Two club, managed by former United defender Chris Wilder, on loan earlier this term. But the 18-year-old, who is contracted to Bramall Lane until the summer of 2018, remains at the vanguard of those Steelphalt Academy graduates Nigel Adkins believes possess the character and calibre to eventually command regular places in his starting eleven.
“I’ll always be thankful to the last manager, Nigel Clough, for giving me my chance,” Calvert-Lewin, who made his first senior appearances for United at Leyton Orient in April, said. “But the new one coming in has given everybody a clean slate so we’re all starting from the same base. That’s good as well.
“It was my first pre-season with first team. You’ve got to be really fit and, coming through the academy, this is what you aim for all the time. I’m here with friends. There are players I’ve worked with for years coming through as well. So, yes, that’s good too because it helps you settle in.”
Calvert Lewin, who has scored seven goals in 18 outings following his temporary transfer to Sixfields Stadium, is a poster boy for United’s youth system. Aged just eight when he enrolled, the centre-forward or attacking midfielder made rapid progress, producing a series of cultured displays at under-16, under-18 and development squads before being exposed, during a brief spell with Stalybridge Celtic, to the brutal realities of life in non-league. This seemingly uncongenial policy, combined with the willingness of Adkins and his predecessors to promote home-grown talent through the ranks, has served United well in the past. Kyle Naughton, now of Swansea City, worked with Mick Wadsworth at Gretna before appearing in their first-team, Matthew Lowton spent time at Sheffield FC while England defender Kyle Walker was also dispatched to Northampton before breaking into United’s side.
“Look at your Naughtons, your Walkers and Phil Jagielka,” Calvert-Lewin explained. “They’ve all been given a chance at a young age and that’s a shining light for young players to come here, to Sheffield United. You know at this club that, if you put the work in, then you’ll be given an opportunity. You’ll get that chance to show what you can do and that the pathway through is there. That’s worth so much to people like me and those lads have paved the way for the rest of us. You look at them when you’re young and think ‘If they’ve done it then so can I.’ But you also know that you’ve got to be dedicated, listen, learn, stay focused and work hard.”
United’s senior professionals have also been a source of encouragement.
“The older, established players have been really good to me,” Calvert-Lewin continued. “I can’t thank them enough for that. I already know them because I trained with them last season but this was the first summer I spent working with the first team all the way through. I get a fair bit of banter because I’m only young still. I’ve only made two appearances so I don’t give any back yet. I just take it on the chin and get on with it. It’s all light-hearted stuff though, all good.”
Calvert-Lewin is likely to be a much more sonant presence in United’s dressing room when he completes, possibly in January, his sabbatical at Sixfields.
Adkins, who took charge earlier this year, rubber-stamped the move after being impressed by the teenager’s attitude, ability and turn of pace during their pre-season preparations but before deciding, following the arrival of Conor Sammon and Billy Sharp, that regular football would accelerate his evolution. It has been a steep learning curve with Calvert-Lewin, under the astute management of Wilder and his assistant Alan Knill, negotiating safe passage through a Capital One Cup tie against Newcastle at St James’ Park and the financial problems which, five weeks ago, led to Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs serving a winding-up order on the club.
Calvert-Lewin, though, is still living the dream.
“My first memory of going to a United game was the 2003 FA Cup semi-final with Arsenal at Old Trafford,” he said. “Paul Peschisolido and the David Seaman save. I was right on line with it when he stopped that. I was only six or so that’s pretty much the only thing that stuck in my mind but hopefully, one day, I can do something similar. Only this time, the header will end up in the back of the net.”