Tom Hopper and Willie Mays - United’s benchmarks

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TOM Hopper may have only played 13 minutes for the Boston United first team, but he is the example used to show the club’s young Pilgrims what they can achieve.

It was a UniBond Challenge Cup clash against Hucknall Town on November 24, 2009, when Hopper was granted his Pilgrims debut, as a 77th-minute replacement for striker Spencer Weir-Daley.

Hopper, aged just 15, became the club’s youngest ever first-teamer. He made a few vital contributions to the side as Boston won 2-1, but within days, one of the club’s worst-kept secrets was confirmed, the striker had left to join Leicester City’s youth academy.

And the success story doesn’t end there as, in April this year, Stickney lad Hopper earned an England under 18s cap, representing his nation in a friendly in Carpi, Italy.

The two sides drew 1-1.

And now, the club’s head of youth Steve Welsh is using Hopper’s success to demonstrate to his charges that those willing to go that extra mile can reap the rewards.

“Tom got where he did because of dedication and sacrifice,” said Welsh.

“In terms of a footballer developing, they’re probably the two biggest things you need to know of if you want to make it to our first team, or make it in life.

“To succeed in football you have to eat right, live right, train right and look after yourself.

“There are so many talented lads who don’t want to sacrifice a night out drinking with their mates, or won’t sacrifice eating food that’s bad for you.

“People with this attitude rarely make it in the game, especially these days. The easy road leads somewhere else.”

Careers in the military and as a professional footballer saw the belief in teamwork, sacrifice and dedication etched into Welsh’s life from a young age.

Sometimes getting the message across to his youngsters – or even senior players - is not so easy.

During his time as interim first-team manager Welsh used inspirational videos such as Al Pacino’s team talk from gridiron movie Any Given Sunday to inspire his side. Battle at Kruger and a film of geese flying in formation were other favourites.

But for his youngsters, a quote from a US baseball star suffices.

Welsh continued: “Willie Mays once said ‘It’s easy to be great some of the time, the difficult part is being great all the time’.

“He meant you have to turn up at training with the same attitude every day, wanting to be the best all the time. You can never afford to take your foot off the gas.”