‘Colls’ to goals for Norwich City ace Pilkington

Anthony Pilkington's Premier League goalscoring exploits are a cause for celebration not only among Norwich City supporters – but also at the non-League club where he made his debut in front of fewer than 50 fans.

The 23-year-old winger has made a swift impact in the top flight since his �2m summer move from Huddersfield, scoring his first goal for the Canaries in the 2-1 win at Bolton and following up with a double in the 3-1 home win over Swansea on Saturday.

But entertaining packed houses at Carrow Road, and playing in front of more than 75,000 at Old Trafford, is a world away from Atherton Collieries AFC – whose Alder Street ground sits halfway between Bolton and Wigan – where Pilkington began his career nearly six years ago.

'Not many players from our team have played in the Premier League. We had Joe Parkinson before he played for Everton and Russell Beardsmore before he went to Manchester United, and now Anthony, but in the last 30 years these are the only three,' said Emil Anderson, Atherton Collieries secretary and programme editor.

Pilkington was 17 when he made his first appearance for the 'Colls' in a North West Counties League Division One game at home to Maine Road on Saturday, November 19, 2005. The match finished 1-1 in front of a crowd of just 43.

Anderson told the Evening News: 'He was quite a player as a young lad. He was a nice lad, confident but not over-confident. He knew he was a good 'un.

'Our pitch at the time wasn't great, though it has improved a lot since then, but he coped with it. We were struggling in the league at the time and the manager, Alan Lord, decided to recruit young players from Myerscough College where he was a lecturer. Anthony was one of them.'

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Pilkington's arrival helped the Colls avoid relegation.

He scored seven goals in 16 games that season, including a hat-trick in a 5-1 derby victory away to Atherton Laburnum Rovers on Easter Monday, 2006.

The following season, said Anderson, Pilkington's form was spectacular.

After Lord stepped down as manager, handing over to Myerscough College head of football Phil Brown, the Colls achieved their best North West Counties finish of seventh in Division One – but Pilkington, destined for bigger things, moved midway through the campaign.

His last game for the club, on November 29, 2006, was a 3-0 win over FC United at Gigg Lane.

'Anthony scored a superb hat-trick on the night, and we knew we had a talent on our hands,' said Anderson.

'He did not play at Salford City on the following Saturday, and then the news came that Stockport County had taken the plunge and signed him on a short-term deal.

'Alan Lord advised them to sign him and the rest is history.'

Anderson added: 'Anthony scored the hat-trick and was then on his way.

'One minute he was playing for Colls and three or four weeks later he was at Stockport, scoring three goals in his first four games.

'That was about a five-level jump and now he seems to have taken to the Premier League like a duck to water.'

Pilkington's progress, from man of the match in the League Two play-off final for Stockport at Wembley in 2008, to a place in the PFA League One team of the year with Huddersfield last season, to the Premier League with Norwich, is a source of real pride for a club formed in 1916 by miners from six local pits.

'Anthony played 35 games for Atherton Collieries and scored 19 goals. We are, however, proud of the role that the club played in his development,' said Anderson.

'He would have made it if he had played for another non-League team but he didn't play for another non-League team – he played for Atherton Collieries FC and you can't take that away from us.

'He has gone straight from League One to the Premier League and overcome a bad injury. Some of our players go up one level but he's gone up about seven or eight.

'Let's hope he goes all the way and plays for England, even though I know he has already played for the Republic of Ireland Under-21s.'

The only tinge of regret in the Atherton clubhouse is that Pilkington's first Premier League goal helped beat neighbours Bolton.

'Most of our committee are fans of the Super Whites,' said Anderson.

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