ON TUESDAY night, a product of Swindon Town’s youth programme started for England Under-19s.
Here was an 18-year-old lad who picked himself up from the heartbreak of being released by his boyhood club Wolves, a young man who refused to believe a Stevenage coach’s blunt words 12 months previously that he’d be flipping burgers at McDonald’s right about now, a budding star who left home at a tender age to pursue a dream.
In the crowd at Telford’s New Bucks Head ground, Miles Storey’s parents - Mandy and Martin - watched their son take the latest step on a career path which has seen its trajectory adjusted considerably in recent weeks.
You can only imagine their emotions.
“As parents we have been so proud to watch him play at a very young age for the District and then move up through the levels,” Mandy told the Advertiser. “To even get to the West Midlands county was a big honour so now, to get the call for our country, is just mind-blowing. It’s just fantastic news.
“He’s very level-headed and he would not allow himself to get carried away and I think the reason for that is the setbacks he’s had in his life. He doesn’t take anything for granted. For him to get to this level now he’s had to work so hard and made sacrifices.
“Where his friends would go out on a Friday night, Miles never would. Saturday would always be a matchday for him. He has made sacrifices in his personal life and still does.”
Mandy and Martin have provided their only child with the firmest of foundations from which to excel.
With Martin’s job in sales taking him around the country on Saturdays, Mandy has been Miles’ chauffeur, advisor, best friend and biggest fan since he first started playing competitive football for Sandwell Dynamos in his native West Midlands aged just six.
She’s ferried her son from training to home to school to training to matches to trials and back again for the best part of 10 years. Now the Storeys are reaping rich rewards for their collective perseverance and dedication.
But it hasn’t been the simplest of roads for a tight-knit family.
After showing massive promise during his Sunday League days with Sandwell, Miles moved quickly through regional representative sides. He featured for Sandwell District before progressing into the West Midlands County team.
Picked up by Wolves aged eight, Miles spent the best part of seven years with the club he supports and with whom his entire family were season-ticket holders until his relocation to Wiltshire. However, just over three years ago he was released.
Mandy said: “He was absolutely devastated when he was released because he had been with the Wolves for seven years. At that point he decided to have a year out from academies.
“He went back to playing school football again and he went back to a Sunday League squad and continued playing for the West Midlands County.”
After his sabbatical, Miles was taken on by Coventry – but Mandy felt her son was still struggling to recover his passion for the game.
“Looking back at his time with Coventry you could still tell that he was absolutely devastated about what happened to him at the Wolves and I felt at the time that it was just going through the motions, to please us as well really,” she said.
“As parents we’ve put a lot of time and effort in, from the age of seven, up and down the country. I actually felt at that stage of his life that he was going through the motions but he was still devastated.
“At the age of 16 he had the other setback and he was released by Coventry while he was taking his GCSEs. However, he took it upon himself to enter the player exit trials and he did really, really well at the exit trials.”
From those exit trials, everything changed for the Storeys. Miles received 12 offers of trials from clubs up and down the country – including Rangers and Manchester United – but he plumped for Swindon Town.
Robins’ youth team coaches Paul Bodin and Jeremy Newton handed the striker a scholarship having seen him play just a handful of games, and Miles packed his bags to move out of the family home aged 16.
“After a lot of consideration Miles and us decided, as a family, that we believed that Swindon was the next port of call for Miles,” said Mandy. “We could tell within a couple of months that Miles started to enjoy his football again after his setbacks.
“The next huge step then, at the age of 16, was for Miles to leave home. I’ve got to say - from both sides, from Miles’ point of view and our own – it was absolutely heart-wrenching.
“He’s a bit of a home boy but Miles knew to follow his dream it had to be done, he had to leave home, he had to take his scholarship down at Swindon.
“For the last two-and-a-half years he’s been living with a wonderful family in Swindon. He’s been looked after really well. This is such a big comfort to myself and Martin because that aspect I’ve never had to worry about.
“We have a huge amount of respect and gratitude for Paul Bodin and Jeremy Newton. They have both been absolutely great with Miles - with his development and obviously Paul giving him his debut from the bench at the age of 17 when Paul was caretaker.”
This year, after coming runner-up to Manchester United-bound Nick Powell in the Football League Apprentice of the Year awards, Miles embarked on his first professional contract and the opportunity to work with Paolo Di Canio and his first-team squad.
Di Canio has been quick to play down the youngster’s rise to prominence, and the Storey family are 100 per cent behind him.
Mandy said: “He is learning from him all the time. At the moment PDC is quite sensibly taking a steady and nurturing approach with Miles which Miles fully understands.
“As for going forward, he has got his feet completely on the ground. He’s trying to keep himself on an even keel, not get carried away and, as parents, we will continue to support him with reality.
“He knows there are areas of his game that he needs to improve on. He is prepared to work at his game and improve. He will listen to PDC and take on board what he says to improve his game, for himself but most of all for the team.”
Last month, Miles made the transition from youth-team prospect to, in the words of his manager, a first-team protagonist. He headed home Town’s third goal against Stevenage, cueing Mandy to go bonkers in the stands.
“The Stevenage goal was Miles’ first goal for the first team and as soon as he headed it into the net I just knew how important that goal was for him.
“I was in the stands going absolutely ballistic myself. I could tell it just meant that much to him and then his next target was his first goal at the County Ground. He’s wanted that so bad so at the Villa game it was brilliant. It was such a special moment.”
Two more goals against Aston Villa in the Capital One Cup followed, and that leads us to Tuesday night and a starting place in Noel Blake’s Young Lions side to face Finland.
It’s a remarkable and heart-warming story, and Mandy knows it would not have been possible without the backing of one particular group of people.
“As parents we’d like to thank all the fans at Swindon Town for their support, kindness and friendliness to Miles and especially to us at the games. They’re absolutely fantastic,” she said.
“They all come up to me and we have a chat – it’s like I’ve known them a long time. I just want to say thank you.
“We’ve always been big fans of the Wolves and we were Wolves season-ticket holders. When Miles went to Swindon we gave that up and I would say now we’re Swindon Town fans to be honest.
“We’re really, really proud of him. Miles will say ‘I haven’t made it yet, I’ve got so much to do, so much to work on’ and that’s the way he is. We honestly believe Swindon Town was the right club and I’m hoping now it’s all paid off.”