A DEBUT in the oldest domestic cup competition in the world, a golden boot award and winning a scholarship at a football league outfit – 2010/11 was quite a season for two north Northumberland teenagers.
In what the pair have both described as their best season yet, Phil Airey, from Acklington, and Luke James, from Amble, have taken impressive strides in the game.
For Newcastle United youngster Phil, the 19-year-old saw his Magpies career reach new heights, with the icing on the cake coming in January when he made his first-team debut in the FA Cup.
Meanwhile, 16-year-old Luke became one of six new scholars to Hartlepool United’s Youth Team set-up, in a season which also saw him play for Pools’ reserve side twice.
Looking back on a memorable campaign, Phil said: “It has been a good year. I have done well this season. It has been the best season for me.
“I only missed two games all season through injuries and scored lots of goals.”
True enough, the striker proved he had an eye for goal as he finished the campaign as the top goalscorer in the Barclays Premier Reserve League North.
Phil, who is a former Coquet High School pupil, plundered 11 goals in 13 starts for the Toon’s second string to take the golden boot award.
He was just ahead of Manchester City’s Swedish U21 international John Guidetti, who scored 10 goals, while Wigan’s Callum McManaman hit eight.
In an interview with nufc.co.uk, he said: “I love scoring goals so to finish the top scorer in the league is great and I’m very proud.”
But for Phil, who also netted twice in three Northumberland Senior Cup appearances and a further three goals in four Academy run-outs – the pinnacle was playing for United’s first team in the FA Cup.
Making his first-team debut, the teenager came on as a substitute in the Toon’s 3-1 defeat to Stevenage in the competition’s third round.
“That was the best moment of my career,” he said.
With one year left on his current contract, Phil is eager to keep impressing at Newcastle – the club he supports.
“This season coming up is my main season. It is the last year of my contract and I am fighting for a new one.
“Hopefully I can keep scoring goals and get involved with the first team more.”
It was also a memorable season for Luke.
The youngster, who has been with Hartlepool’s Centre of Excellence for four years – scoring in excess of 100 goals during that time – was named as one of the club’s new Youth Team scholar intake.
“It is everything I have worked for. I was over the moon when they told us.” Luke said.
“Ever since I was little, I always wanted to play football.”
A season full of highlights, Luke was heavily involved with Pools’ Youth Team last term and played in the Youth Cup, notably against Leicester City at the Walkers Stadium.
He also helped Northumberland U16s beat Lancashire U16s in the Northern Counties Cup Final last month, at Burnley’s Turf Moor ground.
In what was a dramatic final, the team were locked at 2-2 after extra time, before Northumberland won 5-4 on penalties, with Luke playing a staring role, scoring the county’s first goal as well as converting in the shoot-out.
But for Luke, the highlight of his season was making his debut and playing for Pools’ reserves, although he said he was ‘overjoyed’ at becoming a scholar.
“It has been my best season of football. Everything has been spot on,” he said.
Welcoming the new Youth Team scholar intake at the club, John Hewitson, youth development manager, paid tribute to the lads.
Writing in the match day programme for Pools’ League One clash against Tranmere Rovers earlier this year, he said: “Most of the boys have been with the Centre of Excellence for a number of years so credit goes to our coaching staff for developing the boys into the players that they are today.
“It has been a tense, emotional period for the boys and all of their hard work and commitment has paid off so far.
“To get to this stage already is a monumental achievement and something that they and their families can be proud of.”
He said that Luke had ‘performed excellently’ over the season, and added: “I wish the boys all the best for the future and hope their potential is fulfilled. To see them pull on the blue and white shirt for the first team at Victoria Park is a shared dream.”
Luke is a pupil at James Calvert Spence College – Acklington Road, formerly Coquet High School.
Staff said the school was delighted to support him in his decision to pursue his career with Hartlepool and wished him luck for the future.