A 13-year-old has become the youngest senior footballer in the UK, breaking a record which had stood for 42 years in the process.
Christopher Atherton, aged 13 years and 329 days old, came on for Northern Irish side Glenavon in the second-half of their 6-0 League Cup win against Dollingstown on Tuesday.
That meant he beat the record previously held by Eamon Collins, who was 14 years and 323 days old when he made his Blackpool debut in September 1980.
Tonight, Glenavon Academy player Christopher Atherton made his first team debut against Dollingstown in the League Cup. At 1⃣3⃣ yrs and 3⃣2⃣9⃣ days old, he became the youngest player in the UK to play in a first-class match.
Congratulations Christo!!👏🏼💙 pic.twitter.com/hypGdC5R7p
— Glenavon FC (@Glenavon_FC) September 13, 2022
Atherton went on to provide an assist with his first touch of the game, but Glenavon manager Gary Hamilton told ESPN he was not surprised by the youngster’s performance and compared the young forward to Manchester City‘s Phil Foden.
“He can play striker, he can play right, left wing, he can play in behind the frontman, he could play central midfield too, he’s just such a good player,” Hamilton said.
“His awareness is unbelievable and he scores goals as well but you wouldn’t classify him as an out-and-out striker. He can play up front but he would be more of a link player and more of the player that goes in behind the striker and gets on the ball and stuff like that and makes things happen.
“For me, it’s the likes of a type of Foden player where he’s so, so good on the ball and sees pockets and sees spaces and can score goals. He sort of plays like him — that would be the comparison for me at this level of football. I’m not saying he’s Phil Foden, but that type of player, that’s the way he plays.”
From the village of Moy, County Tyrone, Atherton joined Glenavon’s academy aged five and has attracted interest from English clubs since he was eight according to his manager.
Hamilton was set to give Atherton his debut in the last game of the previous campaign, but he was away with his father at a Celtic game.
The Glenavon boss said he had no immediate plans to play Atherton in senior league matches but said the 13-year-old had the potential to surpass the achievements of any of the club’s academy graduates if he moves to England in future.
Former Glenavon players include Bristol City midfielder Mark Sykes and Blackpool forward Shayne Lavery, who previously spent four years at Everton after joining their youth setup from Northern Ireland.
“If he keeps going the way he’s going, he could be wherever he wants to be,” Hamilton added.
“We know the jump that there is to England, we know that and we know it’s massive — we’ve had kids go over before — but all I can say is, based on my experiences, he’s as good as the ones that have gone across the water, if not better at the same age.
“They’ve all gone on and done OK and had good careers. A couple of them have stayed in the Championship now but Christian could maybe even go a level above that the way he’s going at the minute.”
Hamilton, whose son Calum has played alongside Atherton since they both joined Glenavon’s academy, said he expected Atherton to stay grounded despite his newfound status.
“You have to be careful when you’re putting players and kids into situations like this, that you know the kid and it’s not going to go to his head and it’s [not] going to change him,” Hamilton said.
“With Christopher, we know that it won’t do that to him, he’ll just still be the same kid going into school today and coming into training tomorrow night with the first team.
“I think he took a lot of people by surprise, although he didn’t take me by surprise because I’ve been watching him for so long and I’ve seen him up close for a long, long time.”
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