Tuesday marks the 29th birthday of a player involved in one of the most memorable moments in recent West Ham United history.
A baby-faced 18-year-old named Freddie Sears had made headline after headline with his prolific scoring record for the Academy of Football.
Under the guidance of Tony Carr and his coaching staff, the Hornchurch-born striker had plundered 19 goals in 22 games at U18 and U21 level by mid-March 2008, while the first team had scored just four goals in their previous eight matches.
When Alan Curbishley’s side fell to a third consecutive 4-0 Premier League defeat at Tottenham Hotspur, the clamour for Sears’ inclusion grew even louder.
Eager to turn things round and acutely aware of the demands of the Claret and Blue Army, Curbishley – himself an Academy of Football graduate – named the teenager on the substitutes’ bench for the first time for the visit of Blackburn Rovers to the Boleyn Ground on 15 March 2008.
Roque Santa Cruz put Mark Hughes’ visitors in front before Dean Ashton equalised six minutes before half-time.
With a quarter-of-an-hour remaining, Curbishley introduced Sears – and a 22-year-old Mark Noble – in place of Nolberto Solano and it took just six minutes for the prodigy to write the headlines.
“I was pleased to be there but when the manager said ‘Freddie warm up, get ready’, I was a bit shocked – it just went from there,” Sears recalled. “I wasn't nervous. The atmosphere and the fans spurred me on a little bit more. It was really good.”
Sears’ winner showcased his predatory ability, with the youngster following up after his initial shot had been parried by Brad Friedel to send a diving header into the Blackburn net.
The goal sparked wild celebrations in the stands, while lifelong West Ham fan Sears himself wheeled away before making the crossed hammers sign to his adoring fellow fans.
“It was the best thing that could have happened. I came on, got my first early touch. Then I had a shot and it come back so I headed it in. It was a great feeling. It was unbelievable... especially at home as well at Upton Park as a West Ham fan.”
Among those at the Boleyn Ground that unforgettable afternoon were Sears’ family, alongside West Ham legends Sir Trevor Brooking and Sir Geoff Hurst, who will no doubt have been brimming with pride at seeing a homegrown hero win the day.
“My Mum and Dad were in the stands, a few friends and family and my mates were all around,” said Sears, who still attends matches at London Stadium whenever his schedule with Championship club Ipswich Town allows. “I was delighted, it was a good debut. My teammates all signed the matchball for me, all with little comments. That was great.”
As he celebrates his 29th birthday, surely no present Freddie Sears receives will match the experience of scoring on his debut for his boyhood club, West Ham United!