The road to Rio

IT was 10 years ago tomorrow that I nearly got run over by Rio Ferdinand.
No word of a lie. England’s Under-21 football team were playing Ukraine at the Riverside Stadium and Rio was in town to see his kid brother Anton pull on a Three Lions shirt.
I’d been for a couple of pre-match liveners with the Gazette Sports Desk posse and we were heading to the ground. Then, as we were making our way across the road, wooosh! Along came a big black Chelsea tractor with the Manchester United stopper at the wheel.
It was unmistakably him. His Jar Jar Binks look behind the wheel was impossible to miss, as was the personalised number plate..
Fortunately no contact was made – rather like some of his attempts to win the ball in a tackle – and off we went to watch the game, happily still in one piece.
It’s kind of appropriate that such a milestone anniversary should fall on the week of the Julie Lewis Memorial Meeting at South Tees Motrsports Park because then as now it was billed as a chance to see the stars of the future.
That particular sobriquet may well be true, and it will be interesting to chart who it applies to. For example James Milner and Stewie  Downing were among the genuine future stars on show at the Riverside a decade ago but so too was a defender called Dan Harding who apparently stills plays for Nottingham Forest but I’ve genuinely no recollection of ever seeing him play, either in real life or on the telly.
Matt Williamson took the honours but there was a lot of other emerging talent to catch the eye too. Danny Phillips would have won the Unluckiest Rider of the Night trophy had their been one, while Brendan Johnson looked pretty nifty too.
I took a keen interest in Luke Chessell, having reported on his dad Mark and uncle Gary when I was a fresh-faced young thing covering Arena Essex many years ago and he was certainly the surprise packet.
Some will make it, some won’t. But right now each of the riders who were on show has the world at their feet and deserve every bit of encouragement as they look to make their way in the sport..
Good luck to them all, and it would be wonderful to look back in 10 years’ time and say “I remember seeing him ride when he was just a junior”.

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