Proud dad Lee Thompson says his son Declan Thompson signing a professional contract with Sheffield Wednesday is an amazing achievement as he was told at the age of five that he would never be able to play football.
Young Thompson spent his early life in a wheelchair after being diagnosed with Perthes Disease – a rare childhood condition which former Worsbrough attacker Ryan Poskitt also suffered from.
The youngster is following in the footsteps of his dad who played professionally for Boston United in the Football League after coming through Sheffield United’s youth ranks.
“It is an unbelievable achievement because when he was younger he was in a wheelchair,” Stocksbridge Park Steels assistant manager Thompson told Non League Yorkshire.
“He was in it for two years when he was four or five and he was told he would never play football. So looking at how he has progressed, it is unbelievable.
“He has a disease in his hips called Perthes Disease and basically the head of the femur started to rot away and he had to have it pinned out of its socket. He was in wheelchair and he couldn’t do anything he wanted to do.
“They said ‘listen you’ll be lucky to walk again properly and you’ll never play football’. We played it by ear with him and then within 18 months he was out of his wheelchair and my dad took him to watch his old team Beighton Falcons play a football match.
“He still had his old kit and without me knowing, my dad let him play. It went from there and we took him back to the hospital and they just said that he should do what he feels comfortable with. Touchwood he has had no issues since.”
Thompson Snr cites his son for playing for Chris Hilton’s Stocksbridge Park Steels first team as key factor in him winning his pro deal and following in the footsteps of Harrison Biggins, Brodie Litchfield and Jamie Vardy.
“He played for Sheffield Wednesday for a couple of years before he got released when he was around 14,” he said.
“That’s when he came training with us at Stocksbridge. It was obviously men’s football and he was training against people like Matt Reay and Harrison Biggins.
“We said to them ‘listen he’s only 14, but don’t hold back, it is part of growing up’. To be fair nobody did. I remember him going into a 50/50 with Matt Reay and I was thinking ‘oh my god, he’s going to get hurt’. Matt didn’t pull out, Dec didn’t pull out. At times it is what is needed for players to develop.
“He played all pre-season for us and in every game, but he wasn’t allowed to sign for us as he was still 15. We had to wait for his 16th birthday to come along and he was thrown straight in.
“I didn’t actually see his first game as I was at a parent’s evening and he came on at Kidsgrove away and they have some big lads. He supposedly did very well.
“I remember an away game at Bedworth who were pushing for promotion and we had four subs including myself and Dec. We were going to throw a sub on late on and it was choice between me and him. I was going on until Hilts looked at me and said ‘do you think he can handle it? I was like yes he can so he went on and did really well. He should have scored as well as he hit a great shot from 25 yards.
“I was quite shocked at how he handled the men’s side of football straight away, but he’d been training with us for two years so he was used to it.
“We both played against Sheffield United for Stocksbridge in a pre-season game, but it was nice to be on the same pitch as him.
“I remember him starting a game against Hemsworth in pre-season and did really well. He went in for a massive tackle with one of our old players Liam Schofield. There was no fear. He took to it like a duck to water.”
As well playing for Stocksbridge, young Thompson was also turning out for South Yorkshire under 19s and under 16s.
Wednesday eventually offered him a six week trial which led to a permanent deal. Over the last two years he played for their academy and it has culminated in a professional deal.
“Wednesday’s coaching staff are really good and we get on with them all,” Thompson Snr said.
“I know Steve Haslam really well through playing with and against them. Neil Thompson was obviously my gaffer at Boston and they have a really good set-up. Darol Pugh is there and he was my manager at Leeds when I was a kid. Richard Stirrup is an analyst too.
“When he played for Stocksbridge, we used him as a winger. He’s now playing as a centre-half and I can’t believe the change in him. He’s got all the attributes – strength, he’s quick and he’s just growing all the time. Every time I watch him he’s improving.
“I know he’s my son, but he has a bright future. Where and wherever it is I think he has a long career in football ahead of him. The amount of kids who make it pro at the highest level is minimal, but if he doesn’t make it at Sheffield Wednesday I’m sure he’ll have a career somewhere else.
“With injuries, you don’t know how short a career will be so we have said to him that he needs to have a back-up which he has gone and got that. He’s worked really hard to get his grades.
“I’m over the moon that he has got his one-year contract. We had an inkling that something was in the pipeline, but with what is going on it was a worrying time. But we got the call last week and he’s agreed it and its now signed and sealed.”