CamdenNewJournal

The independent London newspaper

J’Neil Bennett scores first goal at news Spurs stadium as school friend lines up for Southampton

Haverstock School carry on tradition of producing top level footballers

28 March, 2019 — By Steve Barnett and Richard Osley

A COUPLE of years ago they were team-mates: battling side by side in the football kit of Haverstock School’s teenage team.

Fast forward to last Sunday and J’Neil Bennett and Rio Glean were together again on the same pitch. But not just any field, and no longer on the same side.

J’Neil, who grew up in Camden Town, wrote his own chapter in footballing history by becoming the first player to score at Spurs’ new 62,000-seat stadium when he netted within 10 minutes of the first test event at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium. The latest in a long line of talented footballers to have studied at Haverstock, he is considered one of the bright prospects in Tottenham’s Under-18s team.

J’Neil Bennett and Rio Glean: now on different sides

Similarly, Rio, his old school friend from Queen’s Crescent, has been given a chance to launch a football career in the Premier League after being scouted by South­ampton. As fate would have it, the Saints’ Under-­18s team happened to be the opposition for the special occasion.

Jamie Histed coached them both at the school in Haverstock Hill, Chalk Farm, and led them to glory in the English Schools FA PlayStation Schools Cup in 2015, a prestigious national tournament which culminated in a final at Reading’s Madejski Stadium. Haverstock won on penalties, with J’Neil scoring one of the spot kicks.

J’Neil scores a cool penalty in the schools cup final

Mr Histed said seeing them now both playing in the first match at the £1bn stadium – an arena that Spurs hope will become the envy of other clubs across Europe – was a “proud moment”. He was in the stands to see his old pupils take to the field against each other.

“The two of them were inseparable and people always used to get them mixed up,” he told the New Journal. “The only difference was that J’Neil was always a little cheeky, while Rio was the quiet one.”

Mr Histed added: “I was chatting to J’Neil recently. He’s so focused on what he’s trying to achieve. He’s got such a professional attitude, and has really matured. His personality reflects him as a player: he’s all about the team, he’s very quick, he’s confident, two-footed and he’s not afraid to take on a player.” After a delay which has lasted nearly all season, Tottenham will stage a legends game this weekend before opening up for its first competitive Premier League match against Crystal Palace next week. But 30,000 Lilywhites were so des­­perate to see in­side their new home, built next to the site of the old White Hart Lane, that they turned up to see the youth side. And they roared with delight when J’Neil curled a long-range shot into the goal.

“Words cannot describe what it felt like to score the first ever goal at the new Spurs stadium,” the youngster tweeted, as new followers clocked on. “Truly honoured to be part of this special club.” It wasn’t the time to mention that friends say J’Neil was more of a Liverpool fan at school.

Mr Histed said: “J’Neil was always one of those lads who would listen. He’d want feedback on his performances and could handle constructive criticism. He would do anything asked of him – he’d run through brick walls for you. He’d also do the things that some of the other boys wouldn’t want to do, like practising on his weaker foot. Whatever you asked him to, wherever you asked him to play, he’d deliver – every time.”

Trophy winner: J’Neil Bennett has always showed promise

The school’s alumni also includes former England internationals Joe Cole and John Barnes.

Mr Histed joked the pedigree of players who had come out of the school was because it “only hires the very best coaches”.

He added: “To have two boys from Haverstock flying the flag for Camden at two different Premier League clubs – it’s such a massive achievement. It’s unreal. Obviously, it’s still early days. It’s up to the boys to keep putting in the hard work, and they will certainly have to earn any rewards that they get along the way.”

Tottenham’s new ground

“To be part of their journey and have helped give them an opportunity makes me just feel grateful that they could put their trust in me. It tells me that I’m doing the right job for the right reasons. Everyone who knows the boys is rooting for them to do well as they continue to chase their dream.”

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