IT is fair to say those at the top of the tree never forget their roots.

For legendary striker Alan Shearer, the Premier League’s record goalscorer, he believes making the move from the north east to join Saints was “the best thing I ever did”.

Spotted by Jack Hixon as part of Lawrie McMenemy’s youth network, a 15-year-old Shearer recalls getting on a train to make the journey south to start his rapid rise to stardom.

Leaving home at 15 would be tough for any youngster after finishing school – but the iconic frontman insisted it was the making of him.

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In an exclusive interview with the Daily Echo during last season, Shearer reflected on his time coming through the ranks at the Dell.

He said: “It was old schoolboy forms. I signed when I was 14. I left just before I was 16 from Newcastle to come all the way down and live in digs.

“That was all the system that Lawrie set up. It was great.

“I wouldn’t have been the player I was if I hadn’t have come down here. It was the toughest thing I did because I had to leave home at 15.

“But it was the best thing I ever did because it helped me grow, it helped me understand what needed to be done to be a footballer.

“I remember pulling out of the train station at 15. Just finished school. My mum was stood there, you could see the tears coming down her eyes.

“Me having three kids now – my kids are older now but I just sort of understood when I had kids that age, 15, thinking ‘jeez, I’m not sure I could have let them go away and move down to the other end of the country at 15’.

“But they did. They were supportive and they gave me everything I needed. It was tough missing home and what have you, but it helped me grow. It was the best thing I ever did – it was amazing.”

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Memorably, Shearer announced himself on the big stage against Arsenal at the Dell in April 1988 aged just 17 years and 240 days.

Having scored 48 goals at youth team level, manager Chris Nicholl came up to him on the morning of the game and told him he would be making his first senior start.

Three goals and the now a trademark Shearer celebration later – a new star was unearthed on the south coast.

Reflecting on that 4-2 top-flight win over George Graham’s Gunners, Shearer said: “My first start! I became the youngest player ever to score a top-flight hat-trick.

“I broke the great Jimmy Greaves’s record. It still stands today – so a hat-trick on my debut wasn’t bad.”

The striker would not get carried away by bursting on to the scene, however. At least it was made certain he was definitely not allowed to, as a youth team player…

“The game was on the Saturday. Finished at quarter to five,” Shearer continued.

“I was in at 9.30am the next morning cleaning all the kit!

“I think that was their way, Dave Merrington’s way, of bringing me back down to earth.

“I didn’t like it at the time, I thought it was very harsh! But looking back it was brilliant.

“The old apprenticeship scheme we had. The YTS scheme. There was me, Matt Le Tissier, Rod Wallace, Franny Benali – all us guys on the YTS scheme and it was fantastic. It was two great years.”

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Shearer would of course go on to have a glittering career in the top flight at Blackburn and then Newcastle.

Sixty-three caps for England and 30 goals would also follow, but despite his incredible footballing journey, Shearer has a special fondness for his time with Saints.

“Amazing days. They were brilliant days,” he said.

“What a dressing room we had?! Jimmy Case, Glenn Cockerill, Russell Osman, Matt (Le Tissier) and Danny, Rod and Ray Wallace – all those guys. It was great to be around. We had a brilliant team spirit. We always used to have one day in the week, where we used to go out and have a drink.

“That’s what got us together and that’s why we were such a good team.”

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The 51-year-old continued: “My wife is from Southampton. All her family is still down here so we spend a bit of time down here.

“It’s great. I get on great with the people down here – I loved my time down in Southampton. I was there until I was nearly 21.

“I loved my five, six years I had down there and I’ve still got many friends and family down there.”

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