CANVEY Island’s Billy Knott fired himself into the national spotlight this week with a stunning goal to help his Bradford City side shock Yorkshire rivals Leeds United in the Capital One Cup.
Knott, who moved to the Bantams from Sunderland this summer, sent Valley Parade into raptures when his ferocious shot threatened to burst the net.
And it had his former coach back on Canvey jumping out of his armchair in delight.
“I don’t get too excited about football nowadays,” said Neil Casson, “but that had me jumping on my feet. It was absolutely brilliant.”
But then again Casson shouldn’t be too surprised, having witnessed Knott’s precocious talents during the midfielder’s formative years.
He first spotted that potential as a coach of the Concord Rangers youth set-up where the young Knott began his competitive football.
Casson, a team-mate of Knott’s dad Steve with the Beachboys, sensed straight away that he had something special.
“Billy turned up when he was six and we just couldn’t believe how good he was. He was unreal.
“I thought I had a couple of good players in the side but then Bill came along. He was head and shoulders above anyone I’d seen at that age.
“He had the natural ability and was so confident. Thinking-wise, you could see he knew so much about that game.
“The things he seemed to know instinctively were incredible for a lad that young. You could tell that he would be a big talent.”
As any parent on the touchline will tell you, the young superstar of the team can often turn into a precocious prima-donna playing for himself rather than his team-mates. But, according to Casson, that was never the case with Knott.
“He was always a good team player and would love to set other people up.”
“He might dribble round everyone but then he’d stop on the goal-line and pass the ball to someone else to put it in – and then jump on their back as if they had done the whole thing themselves!
“There was nothing flash about him but he was ferocious and he didn’t like to lose.
“We’d go into these little tournaments and he hated it if we didn’t win.
“Word quickly gets round and everyone knew about him. We used to turn up to tournaments and the other seven-year-olds in the different teams would just stare at him.
“You could see the fear in their ears. It was like having another five players in the team – which is pretty handy when you’re playing seven-a-side!
“I thought I had seen some good kids about. But as soon as I saw Billy, I knew he was going to make it.
“And by the time he was eight or nine he was in the academy at West Ham.”
Canvey has not had many sporting heroes – Frank Saul, who scored Tottenham’s winner in the 1967 FA Cup final, is probably the most famous footballing name.
So they look out keenly for their own and Knott draws plenty of local attention. They were crammed round the big screen in the island’s Windjammer pub for the Leeds game.
A few years ago, they were thrilled when he looked set to hit the big time by signing for Sunderland to go with his call-up to the under-20s World Cup in Colombia.
But despite bold forecasts from Steve Bruce, the Black Cats boss who promoted him to the first-team squad, that Knott had the “world at his feet”, the breakthrough never materialised.
Instead he had to work his way up through the levels with Wycombe, Woking and Port Vale before the summer move to Valley Parade.
Knott said at the time that City felt right for his career – that is echoed by his many supporters back home.
Casson said: “I think he went through a bit of a lull in his career at one stage. He had a few problems settling down at clubs but young boys at that age do.
“Hopefully he has got over it and has realised he has got to knuckle down. Bradford looks a really good move for him.
“It was great hearing the crowd sing his name. Billy likes to be liked by the fans.
“I remember watching him for AFC Wimbledon and they absolutely loved him there. He’s that type of player who gives everything.
“But he was exactly the same when I had him, giving everything for the team of kids. He always wanted to be involved and to win.
“He was a great example to everyone and a real team man. He likes to be part of everything.”
Knott has already established himself firmly in the affections of the City faithful and Wednesday’s blockbuster against the old enemy made sure he won’t have to buy a drink in West Yorkshire ever again.
Casson laughed: “My little boy turned to me and said ‘did you teach him that one? I wish!
“It was some goal and a great moment for Billy. He knows that we’re all really pleased for him.”