UTD Unscripted: Football is in my blood
As a kid, all I ever, ever wanted to do was play football.
My brother, Rico, is older than me and he used to sneak out to play football at times so I didn’t have to go with him because I was so young.
I’d actually cry to go out and play football.
To be fair, it was in the blood. My Dad used to play to a high level for various clubs and the Portuguese national youth teams, and my brother used to play for United when I was growing up, so I used to look up to them both. Rico came here from Under-9s or Under-10s, and when he got up to Under-15s I used to come and watch him play when he was playing at Carrington. From the age of six, seven, eight, United was all I knew, really.
Whilst he was training and playing, I was literally on the sidelines just trying to copy him, doing kick-ups, practising my skills. I did that until I had to go home, and when I got home it was the same. I didn’t stop playing.
I was born in London but I was three or four when I came to Salford, so all I’ve got from our time in London is videos of us in our flat. Dad lived in Clarendon, towards Salford precinct, and my Mum was more in the Lower Broughton area. I spent time in both parts, really, so I know everyone from both areas.
My favourite part of the whole of Salford is the cage on that estate in Clarendon. Literally anywhere there was an astro or a cage, you’d find me playing. Albert Park, not far from The Cliff, another astro in Clarendon, the sports village around the corner from Littleton Road… I loved them all, but that cage on our estate was special.
The estate was where I met all my mates, and we used to hang around and play football from day till night, really. It was like a big family, everyone was close, everyone played football and there were times that my dad would organise big games on the estate. I had a big family, so sometimes it would literally be my family against the rest.
He used to love getting everyone round. Obviously, he’d end up joining in as well. Dad had spent a while playing at Salford City towards the end of his career, and people who saw him play tell me that he was good. He didn’t have the best of luck due to injury, but the videos he’s got of himself growing up and playing when he was my age, up until he got seriously injured, he was really good. I used to love watching them.
“Angel, go and be free.”
That was how he played. If you were to go to my estate even now, everyone will tell you. He used to join in with us, even with his bad back, and nobody could get anywhere near him!
I’d stand back and watch him sometimes, and it was just like… woah. It was pretty cool because he was my dad. Everyone always used to say the same thing to me:
“Your Dad’s sick.”
He was, to be fair.
My brother wasn’t bad, either. Growing up, any coach who worked with my brother will tell you that he’s a good player. A different kind of player to me. He was someone I’d have liked to play alongside because he was more of a striker, an out-and-out goalscorer. He loved shooting, loved scoring, and he was someone that I just really looked up to when I was younger. He used to teach me how to ball strike because we’re different players in that sense; I’m more finesse, I like to stroke it, but he’s more about hitting through it.
I still remember watching him play at United with Jesse, Ravel, Tyler Blackett and others. They played in the Nike Cup at Carrington against PSG. I remember standing there and thinking:
I want to play here. I want to do this.
So I’d audition for it. Every time I’d go along to watch my brother, I’d bring my ball to play with whilst I was waiting for him. After each session, the coaches would come out at the end when everyone was going home, and they’d be like…
“Go on, show us what you’ve got. Show us a bit.”
That was my time to shine.
I’d do little things, little skills, and they’d be like…
“Hey, he’s alright.”
Eventually, they asked me to play properly, my dad took me over and I stayed from then on with some of the players who are still here now.
I got put down an age group because of my size and structure, plus I was only a day off being in that age group anyway because of my birthday, so they thought that it was better for my development. I ended up being with Brandon, Jimmy, Mason, Dylan, D’Mani… we’ve all come up together, and we used to smash everyone. We’d take turns from kick-off: who can go through everyone and score? I remember scoring from crazy areas of the pitch. It was amazing. We had such a good team. At that age group there’s no pressure, you just go out and play and it’s probably the best time of your life, really.
I was already a United fan by this point, and there were so many players to look up to at that time. We’d won the Champions League and we had the likes of Nani, Ronaldo, Anderson, Tevez and all the others who made up that amazing team. I’ve got a video that Dad took of me playing where I scored and ran off shouting
“NANIIIIIIII”, then did a cartwheel. He was someone I looked up to more and more as time went by, especially because he became a close family friend.
It’s a strange one, but Carlos Queiroz was my dad’s coach going up through all the age groups with Portugal. They’ve got a special bond and they still speak often. Obviously Nani had a bond with Carlos too, so that’s where it all started for him and Dad becoming close friends.
I still remember the first time I went to his house when I was eight. Dad said:
“Right, we’re going out,” without any explanation. We’re on the motorway for a while and I’m thinking: It’s pretty far, this. We turn up to the house, this big house, and this big dog comes running out, Nani comes out and I’m like… woah.
It was surreal, but after 30 minutes Nani had made me feel at ease. At first, to me, he’s this famous United player, but he’s just a normal person. Soon, I was playing FIFA with him and playing football in the back garden with him. Because he was so good off both feet, he’d show me how to hit the ball against a wall with either foot, over and over again, until it became natural and you could shoot with either foot.
Then I asked him to show me how to do the backflip that he always did when he scored and he was like…
“You DON’T want to learn the backflip. That’s just something I do. I wouldn’t advise that.”
Nani’s great. He used to invite me and my brother round to his house, he’d drive my brother into training. Hands down, one of the nicest, humblest guys I’ve ever met in my life. He’s now my godfather and, even though he’s playing in America these days, we still speak regularly.
He was always there to look up to when I was coming up through United’s youth system, but to be honest there are so many examples of that when you’re at the club. You’ve got all the first team there and then, but you’re also taught the history of the club, so whenever we used to go away with the club, the senior members of staff like Tony Whelan and Dave Bushell would teach you. You’d be waiting to board a plane somewhere and Tony would be giving us quizzes: who was the first player to do this, who scored the most goals as a substitute, little things like that. He’d tell us about when he used to play, telling us about Georgie Best and Denis Law, so they made sure we knew our stuff.
On the pitch, things went well for me. I still couldn’t get enough football – I’d sometimes train at Littleton Road with United, then go straight to the sports village with my mates to play on the astro there – and I managed to live out my ambition of playing for United in the Nike Cup. I won Player of the Tournament, which meant a lot after standing on the sidelines watching my brother play in it a few years earlier.
When I was 16, I got the closest yet to the first team when the Under-18s were told we were going to be ball-boys for a Europa League tie at Old Trafford the following night. We were all like:
“Ballboys? It’s freezing!” We just wanted to be watching the game in the stands, but it wasn’t too bad, to be fair, when we did it because you’re closer to the pitch and it was a good experience. None of the balls came my way, so I was ok!
We reached the Europa League final that season, which meant that Jose Mourinho changed things around for the last game of the season in the Premier League. He picked a young team and put me on the bench while I was still 16.
I just remember that towards the end of the game, we were winning 2-0 and I was out on the touchline stretching, but I couldn’t hear anything. The manager was shouting me and I couldn’t hear, so a steward clocked what was happening and he shouted me. I turned around, he pointed at the manager and I was like: Ohhhh, right… I’m going on!
I just remember standing there, seeing the board go up, seeing 10 come up and Wayne Rooney coming off towards me. It was his last game at Old Trafford as a United player so he got a standing ovation, everyone clapping him off.
Meanwhile, I’m stood there thinking to myself… this is crazy.
As he was getting closer, I’m like:
“I’m ACTUALLY going to come on here.”
It was so loud. Everyone’s cheering, but even through that I could hear my family behind me shouting. I got tickets for a few of my friends too who I’d grown up with on the estate, and I could hear them all shouting me.
“GO ON ANGEL!”
I had a look back, saw them all on their feet and I just got on there and thought, yeah, embrace it.
As Rooney got to me, he just said:
“Go on and have fun.”
Just like Dad always did.
It was so surreal. Goosebumps. Everything.
When I was coming on and I was announced, I think Alan Keegan said something about my age.
“Making his debut at 16 years old, number 47, Angel Gomes.”
It was SO surreal.
I’ve got good people, good family around me, so I was quite humble and didn’t need any help keeping my feet on the ground afterwards. To be fair, I had a tournament to go to with the Under-18s after the game, so I was brought straight back down anyway! Although it was a massive high, you have to remember that you’re not there yet, just on the way there. Once I’d had a little taste I wanted more, so it was a case of showing myself.
Every time I pull on the United shirt, it’s just the same as when I made my debut. I just feel massive pride, and it’s still surreal just to be stood in the tunnel, even if you’re on the bench. It brings huge pressure, but that’s what you want, it’s part of playing for this club.
If you’re a football-mad kid who grew up around the corner, it’s all you can wish for.