James Milner - Fans memories of a home-grown hero

He's the home-grown hero who made his Leeds United debut at just 16.

Saturday, 11th September 2021, 4:30 pm
James Milner pictured on his debut against West Ham United at Upton Park in November 2002. PIC: Mark Bickerdike
James Milner pictured on his debut against West Ham United at Upton Park in November 2002. PIC: Mark Bickerdike

Winger James Milner was a product of the club's academy system joining the Whites after being spotted by a scout while playing for Westbrook Juniors in Horsforth.

He became second youngest ever Premier League player at the age of just 16 years and 309 days when replaced Jason Wilcox for the final six minutes of a thrilling 4-3 victory at Upton Park in November 2002.

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James Milner celebrates scoring against Sunderland at the Stadium of Light in November 2002. PIC: Varley Picture Agency

Milner would go on to become the youngest ever goalscorer in the top flight, a record that stood for three years, as he bagged in a 2-1 win over Sunderland at the Stadium of Light on Boxing Day just a month later.

Another magic moment came just a month later when he scored again against Chelsea at Elland Road in December 2002. A deft first touch of the ball and manoeuvre, in order to avoid a tackle from Chelsea defender Marcel Desailly, provided the space he needed to curl the the ball home from 18 yards.

Yet he broke hearts after being for forced to depart for Newcastle United amid the financial crisis in LS11 following relegation from the Premier League in 2004.

"I turned up on the first day of pre-season thinking we were going to discuss a new contract, and someone said: ‘You’re going up to Newcastle for your medical tomorrow’. I was like: ‘Am I?’ That was tough," he said during an interview with FourFourTwo magazine. “It was disappointing that I didn’t get to play for Leeds for longer, but to do it at all was pretty special.”

James Milner celebrates scoring against Chelsea at Elland Road in December 2002. PIC: Varley Picture Agency

Your YEP has been asking the Elland Road faithful to share memories of a Leeds United number 38 who made 54 appearances for the club in total before his exit, scoring five goals in the process.

Responses included:

Cat Breakwell-Milner: "Scoring the equaliser v Everton early into the second half in 2004 after Wayne Rooney scored in the first half. Was in the East Stand Upper and I’m scared of heights, still jumped up and down like a loon to celebrate."

Daniel Howson - "Scoring vs Chelsea."

Mark Bickerdike (@mbicks66) - "I once saw the team in pre-season training, they were doing shuttle runs and Milner was an absolute running machine, out lasting everybody. It looked like a Duracell bunny advert."

The El Loco Gnome (@ellocognome) - Eddie Gray putting faith in him at Charlton which led to him notching and a much needed 1-0 victory. Why didn’t Peter Reid play him earlier in 03-04 instead of sending him out on loan to Swindon?"

DP. #7in7 (@pepperds) - "I was in the South Stand to the right of the goal (v Chelsea) as you look at it from the pitch, so had the perfect angle to see the ball curl into the corner."

Anne Howard - "A player who can play in most positions and a true leader."

Bailey Robinson - "Not been funny but I’d love him back."

Connor Thompson - "Be good to have him back in his home town."

Ty Roneb - "Love to see Mil back at Leeds. Top lad and player."

Graeme Paul - "The experience and ability of a player who has built a fantastic career. Would be good to see JM in a white shirt."

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