When I was a kid I decided to be a footballer. I didn’t hope to be, I decided. As if it was that easy.
It never worked out. But I didn’t lose any sleep over it because there was no desperation to be a player, no need. It just seemed like the perfect way to live a life.
As a result I always have a soft spot for the late bloomers, the non-league players suddenly thrust into the limelight seemingly overnight when in truth their journey has taken years.
Dwight Gayle isn’t quite one of those players. To be playing League Two football at the age of 20 doesn’t mark him out as particularly special. He simply played his way up the levels until Crystal Palace agreed a £3million deal to bring him to the Premier League; a deal set to be finalised next week.
But Gayle’s story isn’t that straight forward. There is still an element of fairy-tale to it; still that sense of an everyman suddenly thrust into the company of superstars.
From Arsenal’s youth team to non-league Stansted, Gayle may have thought his professional career was over before it had begun.
But after an outstanding season for Stansted he joined Dagenham & Redbridge, only to be sent on loan to Bishop Stortford for the 2011-2012 season.
Just over a year ago, Gayle was completing a 42-goal campaign for the Blue Square Bet North side. Now he is anticipating a season in the top flight.
If that isn’t a Hollywood ending, I have misunderstood the term.
It was last season that Gayle really began to get noticed, after a loan move to Peterborough United became permanent in January. For an initial fee of £500,000, Darren Ferguson’s side signed a player who ended the season with 13 goals in 28 starts. And while his efforts couldn’t save them from relegation, he had nothing to be ashamed off.
And now he is about to sign for the Eagles – who know just how important goals will be should they wish to remain in the top flight for the long term.
Gayle is not a superhero. He will not single-handedly shoot Palace to survival. But he is exactly the kind of player they need, a raw, naturally talented young man whose trajectory has been almost a straight line upwards for the last two years.
How high he will ultimately go remains to be seen. For now he should simply enjoy the journey.
image: © Mick Baker