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October 19, 2002

What started as quiet murmurings many months ago among excited but cautious Everton observers, grew to a steady buzz throughout the 2001/02 FA Youth Cup campaign and escalated rapidly to white-hot anticipation during the 2002 pre season, culminated in one explosive moment in the dying minutes of a well-fought match with reigning Double Winners Arsenal at Goodison Park today. With one sweet strike in the 90th minute, 16 year-old Wayne Rooney at once sealed a dramatic 2-1 victory for Everton over a team they hardly ever take any points from, put an end to the Gunners' 30-match unbeaten streak and became both the youngest player to ever score a league goal for Everton and the youngest player to score in the Premiership. Scoring for the first time in the league for the team you have supported all your life doesn't get any better than that.

Rooney celebrates after his first senior league goal topples "unbeatable" Arsenal

Everton's fans have known for a while that the club had something very special in the young striking talent and now, for better or worse, the secret is very definitely out. You don't shoot down arguably the best club side in the world with a 25-yard wonder goal in such dramatic fashion without catching the attention of a nation, but those who know him believe that young Wayne has the temperament to handle the sudden media glare.

It was all just a matter of time. The manner in which Rooney fired nine pre-season goals past varying opposition illustrated the unbridled confidence and undounted talent that he possesses. It led to calls for him to make his senior debut on the opening day of the 2002/03 campaign against Tottenham, which he duly did and came away with an assist for his part in setting up Mark Pembridge's opening goal in a 2-2 draw. Another start and a succession of substitute appearances followed as Moyes wisely used his uncut diamond sparingly.

Then, in the second half of a 2nd Round Worthington Cup encounter with Wrexham, Master Rooney rewrote Everton history for the first time when he scored two late goals — his first senior goals — to become Everton's youngest ever scorer.

Of course, everyone regards the league as the real stage that matters, and rumour had it that Wayne felt the same way himself. He had been itching to open his account for the first team through the first nine games of the Premiership season before that stunning late strike in the Blues' 10th match of the campaign. Apparently he couldn't score all week in training before the Arsenal game, a footnote that merely adds richness to the story.

With the clock ticking towards full time and the ball 30 yards from goal, most strikers would hold the ball up and await support for one last cavalry charge at the opposition goal. Most 16 year-old players would have panicked and, opting for safety in experience, laid the ball off to the nearest teammate. Not Wayne Rooney. He plucked Thomas Gravesen's high pass out of the air with precision on his instep, turned away from his marker and took two strides before powering a bending, curling shot in off the crossbar and over the line.

The goal would have made the highlight reel irrespective of its timing, its significance and the stature of the opposition. But Rooney chose the final minute of a match to score the decisive goal against the reigning Champions of England and end their remarkable unbeaten run in the Premiership: 30 matches undefeated in total, 22 of those away from home. In terms of national significance, he couldn't have picked a more dramatic moment; for the Goodison faithful, only a goal in similar circumstances to beat Liverpool could have been better — and, come December, he may get the chance for that as well!

Quite part from the personal landmark for Rooney, that goal uncorked what felt like years of pent-up frustration and emotion among the supporters. After years of misery spent in the wrong half of the table watching former Evertonians like Michael Owen enjoying success on the Dark Side and seeing great white hopes like Francis Jeffers and Michael Ball leave the club for differing reasons, the Goodison faithful finally have a hero they can call their own.

While no one expects the continued maturity of the club's best home-grown prospect in decades to single-handedly transform Everton's fortunes, Wayne Rooney does symbolise the dawn of a new era at Goodison Park. Perhaps it is no surprise that his readiness for the senior setup coincided with the arrival of David Moyes, the manager who made the defeat of Arsenal a possibility in the first place with his quiet revolution. A bright future lies ahead for the boy who turns 17 in just a few days, poised as he is to continue the legacy of Everton's famous strikers of yesteryear.

Lyndon Lloyd