Sam Wallace: A Boy's Own story that hits heady heights of England

Watchful eye of Sven Goran Eriksson and the Arsenal manager's comments have elevated teenager Theo Walcott to the top table
Click to follow

There is some television footage of Theo Walcott in his days at Southampton in which the teenage striker bursts forward so quickly that the cameraman loses him from the shot. Walcott is in the middle of the screen one moment and the next he disappears off the right side of your television set before a jerk of the lens brings him back into view.

Presumably it was videos like that which persuaded Sven Goran Eriksson to make his way to south Hertfordshire to watch a training session - this is, after all, the manager who cannot bring himself to watch a Championship match never mind a teenager playing three-a-side with the reserves. Those videos and the recommendation of his old friend Arsène Wenger, who by all accounts stood with Eriksson on the side of a training pitch on Saturday and told the Swede that, after Michael Owen and Wayne Rooney, "Theo's better than anything else you've got."

And on that was one of the momentous decisions of England's World Cup history made.

Walcott is the 17-year-old who came straight out of Compton (the village outside Newbury in Berkshire) and went from Swindon Town to Southampton and on to Arsenal in the space of six years. We thought it was exciting when Wenger staked a fee of £5m, rising to £12m, on him in January, now, however, this Boy's Own story has been transformed beyond all expectations.

Walcott was undertaking the theory part of his driving test when he found out yesterday he was to be part of the World Cup finals squad. In the afternoon he played for the Arsenal reserves against an Irish under-21 team and was, by all accounts less than impressive. No matter. The injury to Rooney has called upon Eriksson to show us what he does for £4.2m a year - the inclusion of Walcott felt like a good start.

What do we know about Theo Walcott? He is a prolific goalscorer of awesome pace who started playing competitive football at 10 for Compton primary school and even now was described as a "gazelle" by one experienced old pro who faced him in training at Southampton. Walcott was also a talented artist as a child although it was his 100 goals in one season for the junior team AFC Newbury that had his town talking.

His parents, Don, a former British Gas employee, and mother, Lynn, a midwife, were at the press conference that Wenger held to mark the signing of Walcott in January, standing in the corner in some disbelief at the attention lavished on their son. Lynn was concerned about getting back to Berkshire as one of her patients was about to give birth. Now her son has a £1m-a- year contract, signed on his 17th birthday in March, she may be able to cut back on the work.

Walcott has a brother, Ashley, and a girlfriend, Melanie, and started his career at Swindon Town whom he played for in a tournament in Cardiff that brought him to the attention of bigger clubs. The regime at Swindon at the time was chaotic to say the least and the current owners of the club are not even sure what fee their predecessors allowed Walcott to leave for when he joined Southampton: they think it may be as little as £5,000.

By then the teenager had moved on to The Downs School in Compton where he was an academic success, the school's outstanding sportsman and the star in a production of Bugsy Malone. There was intense interest in him as he progressed through England's junior teams - before yesterday he was part of the under-19s squad despite being younger than many of the other players. Liverpool and Chelsea expressed an interest and Manchester United came into the running as Arsenal closed in.

Walcott was a Liverpool supporter but it was Chelsea who tried to muscle in on him first, making the teenager a ball boy when the Merseyside club came to visit Stamford Bridge. He was given a contract by Nike and was signed up to the Key Sports agency, run by the experienced football agents John Calhoun and Colin Gordon, who also represent Steve McClaren.

Walcott, who is a relative of the West Indies batsman Sir Clyde Walcott, made his debut for Southampton this season as the youngest player in the club's history. He played 23 games up to January and scored five goals as a 16-year-old - and there was real concern that he was playing too much, too young. Arsenal solved that problem when Wenger came in to sign him and immediately sent the boy on holiday. If he does play in Germany this summer, Walcott will be too old to break Norman Whiteside's 1982 record of 17 years and 41 days for a World Cup debut but his story is already remarkable - in the next few months it can only get more extraordinary.