He came from Bermuda where his dad was a banker and signed with AC Milan aged six. Well, not AC Milan, per se, but the AC Milan Soccer School which was affiliated with Dee Why FC and played in the Manly Warringah junior competition. And he always played up.
Not played up as kids do in school. But rather up age groups. Or in his case three age groups. For three years he played U/9s – for Dee Why, Beacon Hill, and CC Strikers – before trialling with Manly United. In U/13s he scored 27 goals. Aged 16 he played for Australia Schoolboys.
And on Friday night at Cromer Park, he scored a goal seven minutes into his National Premier League debut for Manly United. He is Ben Gibson, he is 17 years old and he is still a schoolboy. And chances are you’ll be hearing more of him.
They heard him on Friday night at Cromer Park, or at least they heard the full-throated roar for his goal against Sydney FC. Seven minutes on the field, boom – match-winner. And the crowd was up as one.
In the grandstand was Ben’s dad Graeme, mum Kerry, and older sister Ally. Uncles, aunties, and grandparents watched on NPL TV. None of the family was expecting him to get on. When he did they were more nervous than he was. “His first interaction was to help at a corner,” Graeme says. “I turned to Ally and said, ‘I hope he doesn’t score an own goal his first touch’.”
Quite the opposite happened.
In the 77th minute, Jack Fulton won the ball near the halfway and dribbled downfield, straight at Ben. Fulton cut across the field before dinking the ball over tall defenders to Gibson who found himself in space, one-on-one, goalkeeper to beat. The goalie charged out as good ones do, all arms and legs and angles, side-stepping, getting “big” on the man with the ball.
Gibson, though, wasn’t flustered. “I just gave it a shot,” he says. Which seemed to work fine. Because in it went. And Cromer Park was a happy place.
Graeme Gibson reckons his son was playing down his excitement around his teammates. When he got home, though, “he had a huge smile on his face. He was so happy to have played so well,” Graeme says.
“The feeling was unreal,” Ben says. “Afterwards in the shed, singing the team song, I was super over the moon. It was a great vibe. Particularly to beat a really good team like Sydney FC.”
Ben will turn 18 in July and is in Year 12 at Freshwater High. He had a couple of years at Narrabeen Sports High under former Manly United coach Jimmy van Weeren, ironically the man in charge of Sydney FC on Friday night.
The plan? Father and son haven’t really talked of long-term goals. There’s an NSW Schoolboys team Ben hopes to make this year. He’ll try to stay in first grade with United. Apart from that, he’ll continue to do his best to play well. And play up.