Six years after featuring for Gabon’s Olympic team against Northern Alliance side Heaton Stannington on a cold afternoon in Newcastle, the pacey figure of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang completed a club-record move to Arsenal.
In a deal worth a reported £56 million, the former AC Milan forward is now the Premier League’s top scorer after bagging another goal against Fulham on Tuesday afternoon, with his tally of 14 goals being testament to his incredible run of form lately.
It was a tough, but rewarding start to life in the England, but this wasn’t the striker’s first experience on UK soil.
That came when he appeared as a substitute in a 3-0 UEFA Cup defeat to Liverpool back in 2010.
Image: ChronicleLiveThen two years later, he would make his full-debut behind a Chinese takeaway in front of a man and his dog.
The 6ft 2inch frame of Aubameyang stood on the hallowed turf of Grounsell Park in 2012 when Gabon needed a warm-up game ahead of an Olympic football tournament at St James’ Park the following week.
In a bizarre set of circumstances non-league side Heaton Stannington FC were asked to throw a team together just 24 hours before the game after Newcastle U23’s pulled out for unknown reasons.
Aubameyang spent 12 months on loan to Dijon in the French Second Division to prove himself in 2009, but even he hadn’t seen pitches like Grounsell Park before.
Gabon knocked four past their opposition and the rest is history, but what was it like to mark one of the fastest players in world football?
Lee Chapman was one of four defenders who had the unenviable task of marking the Gabon international.
Born and bred in Newcastle’s east end, the 32-year-old was working as a metal finisher at ADM Pressings when he received arguably the strangest phone call of his life.
“The agent of Nolberto Solano knew our manager and asked him if he could arrange a game on the Sunday. It was after we played on the Saturday as well, but the manager phoned me and asked If I could a play. It was a silly question really.” Chapman told SPORTbible.
“I had him on my left shoulder throughout the second-half. Every time I looked over around the edge of the box, he was there a second later, putting the ball in the back of the net. He was rapid.”
Chapman recalled he had a ‘few bottles’ the night before facing Aubameyang at Grounsell Park and admitted that he didn’t even know where Gabon was ahead of the game.
“I was playing right back at the time and we went on to win the double that season, but he was too good. The lads had heard of him because Newcastle were reportedly trying to sign him, but I hadn’t heard too much. Just that he was lightening quick.” Chapman said.
“That night I had a few bottles as normal, nothing different really. I still didn’t quite know where Gabon was!”Aubameyang might have scored two against Chapman on that day in High Heaton but not many people can say they’ve marked one of most expensive players in world football, can they?”
“He was absolutely amazing. I’ve never seen pace like it at first hand – certainly not on this pitch,” Heaton Stannington’s assistant manager Geoff Walker told Football.London.
“All the lads were talking about it afterwards. They couldn’t believe the pace he had. They’d never come across anything like that. His movement was amazing, he just glided. That’s the best way to describe it – he was gliding across the pitch, it was a sight to see, it really was.”
What a story.