UPTON teenager Tom Heaton is ready for the most important season in his fledgling career.
The 18-year-old goalkeeper reported back for training with Manchester United last week at the start of the third year of his apprenticeship as he bids to establish himself among the greats who have stood between the posts at Old Trafford.
Tom, who left Upton High School two years ago, is so well thought of by the coaching staff at Manchester United that he was a regular in the reserves for the last three months of last season and is now fourth in the pecking order of glovemen.
His promise was recognised when Sir Alex Ferguson took him with the first team to Birmingham as emergency cover for substitute Roy Carroll, who had been troubled by an ankle injury.
'Tom wasn't kitted out, but if Carroll had cried off at the last minute, he would have been on the bench,' said his father Dave, who hardly misses one of his son's matches.
'They seem to think a lot of him and he is hoping to continue his development this season. He is very happy at Old Trafford.'
When he is not training under goalkeeping coach Tony Coton, Tom also spends a day and a half at college in Manchester doing business studies and maths to make sure he has something to fall back on if his footballing ambitions don't work out.
But that's unlikely. He has been a regular in England's Under 18s team, playing both matches last season against Sweden and Belgium after fracturing his jaw in a televised game the previous year.