Antonio makes special return to secondary school

Hammers favourite Michail Antonio took a trip down memory lane when he paid a visit to his secondary school in south London.

The Wandsworth-born winger made a successful return to Southfields Academy – where he was given a hero’s welcome by current students – and greeted fondly by his former teachers and members of staff.

The Hammers’ topscorer this season said: “It’s great to be back at my old school. It’s always nice to have the opportunity to come back here, a lot changes every time I come – in the music rooms they’re using Macs instead of PCs, which maybe shows my age! It’s always nice to come back, I’ve really enjoyed it.

“I’ve come back before to talk to the kids to try and inspire them by spreading a positive vibe and saying that you can achieve anything you want.”

It was during his time at Southfields that the then 16-year-old Tooting & Mitcham player, described by Deputy Head teacher David Holt as a “naughty but not bad” pupil began to take his football seriously.

Holt continued: “It’s absolutely superb that Michail comes back, you can’t put a price on it, and he’s a superb role model. Particularly for an inner-city, multi-ethnic school like ours; to have such a positive character is absolutely fantastic.

“He always has a really positive effect on all the staff and the students. As a sportsman growing up, you name it he’d put his hand to it, he had very good hand eye coordination, basketball, table tennis, badminton and as you can see, he’s a supreme athlete.

“I never had to speak to him about his behaviour or attitude on the pitch; that only ever happened in the classroom, and when I did, he was always very contrite.” 

Now the best part of a decade later, Antonio, part of Gareth Southgate’s new-look England side, is preparing for what could well be his international debut as the Three Lions face Malta later today.

Holt, much like everyone closely connected to the 26-year-old, is excitedly awaiting his international bow: “I’m desperate for him to become a full international, I texted him when he got his first call up and he was absolutely chuffed.”

While his meteoric journey from non-League to Premier League stardom is now a well-known one, the man himself clearly has fond memories of the place where it all began.

“When I was a kid I thought you had to go through a Club’s academy to become a professional. But I don’t come here just to talk about how to become a footballer, it’s more about having that drive that you need to have to succeed in any industry and any walk of life.

“It’s very important that players take the time to give back to the community. If I was 16 and a professional footballer visited, I would’ve gone crazy, I’d be so excited. I’d definitely want a photo and things like that, so to be in that position is good.

“Whenever I speak to kids I always stress how important it is to keep up your education, because whatever stage in life you’re at, a good education is always important.”