Of course, the patch sits right behind the house where resided the girl he would marry. Go to the corner, turn left and go behind the church, and that’s the site of their first kiss, according to his wife’s autobiography, published in 2007, the year she turned 21.
Three miles away is Goodison Park, the ground of the proud first-tier English club Everton, where Rooney in October 2002 gave a crowd an uncommon wow by scoring a gasp of a goal to end Arsenal’s 30-match unbeaten run, five days before he would turn 17. Even Old Trafford, where Rooney went to play for Manchester United for 13 storied seasons, stands only 34 miles away.
As Rooney at 32 arrives in Washington and with D.C. United, 3,500 miles away, he does so as a father of four sons ages 8 to two months, a striker once exhilarating and frightening enough on soccer pitches to romp across the world, play in World Cups on three continents, win a European Champions League in Russia and marry on the Italian Riviera. Yet he also does so as a man who has made a point of keeping Croxteth — “Crocky,” they call it — tucked meaningfully in his bloodstream.
“This is ‘Crocky,’ Croxteth, where I am from,” he said in a 2015 BBC documentary. “Obviously it has had its moments with a bit of violence or trouble over the years. But I love the area and it has helped me become the person that I am.”
While Rooney long has caused havoc on the grass and, in turn, in the stands, he also long has seemed unmistakably shy. While he has lived a non-Croxteth kind of adulthood — the cameras started following both him and Coleen when they were in school, inevitably emerging from bushes at times — he has never demonstrated any self-promotion slickness or look-at-me gene. While his past 16 years have roiled the tabloid pages, it has been possible to go for long swatches of English life without hearing his voice, especially with English Premier League locker rooms not open to reporters seeking insight from the participants.
A nutshell: He returned the 34 miles to Everton for this past season, to a club where the timeline on the outside stadium wall includes his photo and his accomplishment as the youngest player to play for England’s national team at the time (2002). His return wrought merriment. Last Sept. 1, police in Wilmslow, south of Manchester, charged him with “driving whilst over the prescribed limit,” and he went to court and confessed an “unforgivable lack of judgment.” It wrought news coverage, and Coleen’s plea on Twitter toward aggressive photographers. It also wrought a fine of 170 pounds (about $230), 100 hours of community work and a two-year ban on driving.
He has always been both a lot of loud sensation — 208 Premier League goals, second all-time; 253 Manchester United goals, first all-time; 53 English national team goals, first all-time — and bit of a quiet mystery. That’s even with bountiful tattoos, such as the one that turned up on his arm in 2008 after his Las Vegas honeymoon, quoted an album title from the Welsh band he fancies, Stereophonics, and reads, “Just Enough Education to Perform.”
He and fame have a long, awkward relationship.
Rooney is the oldest of three sons with Irish lineage, born to a laborer father and a mother who worked in the cafeteria at Rooney’s secondary school as well as a cleaner and in a candy van. He began dispensing outrageous statistics early: 72 goals in a season for the Liverpool Schoolboys unit, 114 goals in 29 games for the Everton Under-10-and-11 team in 1995-96. At age 15, he played for Under-19s. He started out for the Everton big team as the whispers gathered steam. He debuted at age 16 years, almost 10 months.
At age 16 years, 360 days, he entered a 1-1 match with the great Arsenal with about 10 minutes left, then corralled and controlled teammate Thomas Gravesen’s flying ball forward, 30 yards from the goal. When his crafty arc of a shot got through, it had whirred over goalkeeper David Seaman and caused ITV broadcaster Clive Tyldesley to exclaim, unforgettably: “Oh, a brilliant goal! A brilliant goal! Remember the name! Wayne Rooney!”
Moments later, Arsenal Manager Arsene Wenger would say, “He’s the best English talent I’ve seen since I took over at Highbury” with Arsenal.
Remembering isn’t much necessary anymore for a name burned into the national psyche, a name that has won everything in sight club-wise, and appeared 119 times England-wise, a record for an outfield player, even if England hasn’t licked the World Cup. Still, after breathing rare animation into Everton fans filing out that day in 2002 — especially for a club that values its neighborliness, sitting across Stanley Park from the international Liverpool club — he returned straightaway to Croxteth.
To reach Croxteth from the center of Liverpool, one must pass through neighborhoods such as Everton, Tuebrook, West Derby, Norris Green off to the left, down a 20-minute boulevard with hair salons, Turkish barbers, Indian takeaway, Chinese restaurants, fish and chips. Croxteth has had its horrifying headlines, with gang wars and the nationally mourned accidental shooting in 2007 of 11-year-old Rhys Jones, by a 16-year-old gang member, after which Rooney sent a large floral tribute. It has the familiar long rows of terraced houses, such as the ones in which the Rooneys lived, including the one where his bedroom window advertised an Everton shrine. It has the spiffy, if gated and well-guarded, De La Salle Academy for boys, Rooney’s school, with its field out back, soccer goals and rugby goal posts.
It also has the various patches of grass and concrete from which spun somebody so wildly, nationally famous that, by now, he might even find some respite in a country where he’s less so.
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