Striker who dumped United out of cup fights for his home

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Southend will take a long time to forget its debt to Freddy Eastwood. The 23-year-old local lad's sublime free kick for the local football team humbled Manchester United on Tuesday night and sent Sir Alex Ferguson's stars crashing out of the Carling Cup in one of the most memorable giant-killing feats in recent sporting history.

But it is more than just several dozen league places that separate Eastwood from the millionaires of Britain's biggest football club. As United's humbled star strikers Rooney and Ronaldo shook off defeat in the comfort of their multimillion-pound mansions in the Cheshire stockbroker belt, the victorious Southend United striker, an English Romany, returned to a small but immaculately kept mobile home on the edge of a busy road in Wickford, Essex.

In this part of the world, travellers and Gypsies are at loggerheads with the local authority, which is in the throes of a bitter legal battle to evict families from a number of illegal sites near by. Michael Howard courted controversy during the last election campaign when he visited opponents of one of the plots, while the BNP has also sought to exploit tensions over the issue. Eastwood is reported to be in the midst of an appeal to allow him and his wife Debbie and their children Freddy, four, and Chardonnay, two, to keep their home on the disputed green-belt site. He is said to have purchased the land, home to several other Romany families, for £2,000 in 2004. This summer, the £100,000-a-year footballer told a local inquiry that he needed retrospective planning permission for the site so his family, including his father and sister, could all live there.

Reporters were greeted with extreme distrust at the site yesterday. All denied knowledge of the Eastwoods. His club also declined to answer questions on where he lived. Basildon District Council confirmed that a Fred Eastwood gave evidence to a recent public inquiry into an unauthorised travellers' site but could not confirm it was the footballer.