Twelve months ago Luke James was a teenager with a head full of dreams, a ball boy sat behind the goal at Victoria Park watching his childhood idols, Sunderland, take on Hartlepool United.
Fast forward a year and James, still just 17, has realised several of those ambitions – a first-team debut, a senior goal, or three, and a professional contract are all in the bag.
But, tonight, he is hoping to achieve another lifelong goal – sharing a pitch with the team he supported as a schoolboy growing up in Amble, when Pools take on Sunderland in a pre-season friendly.
It shows something for James’ love of the Black Cats that he would regularly make the hour-long journey from his Northumberland home to the Stadium of Light to cheer on his team.
And, reflecting on last summer’s visit of the Wearsiders for Ritchie Humphreys’ testimonial match, James said: “I was ball boy last year – it’s mad!
“I was sitting behind the goal next to the Sunderland end.
“I was just gob-smacked watching the likes of Stephane Sessegnon play.
“Hopefully, if I do get on, it will be a dream come true for me.”
James could well partner staunch Newcastle United fan Steve Howard in attack against Martin O’Neill’s men.
But the forward is well used to mixing with rival black-and-whiters.
“I was always a Sunderland fan as a kid,” he went on.
“All of my mates were Newcastle fans so I used to get quite a bit of stick – especially after the 5-1 game a couple of seasons back. “My dad, my grandad, all of my family are Sunderland fans and I went to most of the games until I was 16.
“This will actually be my first Sunderland game for a while – I’ve just got to remember I’m playing and not watching!”