Huddersfield Town’s Benik Afobe on his friends in the North whe he returns to Arsenal

YOU can take the man out of Huddersfield – but Town will always be a part of Benik Afobe.

YOU can take the man out of Huddersfield – but Town will always be a part of Benik Afobe.

The 18-year-old on-loan strike star has big ambitions of success with Arsenal.

But whatever happens in the future, the hugely likeable Londoner will always remember his friends in the North.

"My time here has been fantastic, and I’d love to play my part in a play-off final win," said Afobe, who will join up with England Under 19s for their European Championship qualifiers in Switzerland straight after tomorrow’s big match.

"I’ve gained an unbelievable amount of first-team experience for someone of my age, and I learn new things every day from the manager and the coaching staff, but it’s been about more than football.

"Coming here means I’ve had to fend for myself and make new friends, and I think I’ve developed into more of a man.

"Mind you, the people at the club and in the town have been fantastic, and they’ve made it easy for me.

"The staff and players have welcomed me since day one, and they’ve all invited me to spend time with them and their friends and families.

"And the supporters have been superb. Down in Dagenham, where I live, nobody gives me a second glance, but up here people stop me when I’m shopping and want to talk about Town.

"There’s huge support for the club, and it brings home to you just how much people want us to succeed.

"It’s great to be a part of it, and as far as I’m concerned, it’s been highlight after highlight ever since I’ve been here."

Afobe arrived in West Yorkshire in November, making his debut from the bench in the memorable 2-0 win over Sheffield Wednesday at Hillsborough, after Town boss Lee Clark persuaded Arsenal counterpart Arsene Wenger (inset) that the Galpharm would be a great place for his development.

Clark had long been tracking the childhood West Ham supporter, who signed for Arsenal at six and played for their Under 16s as a 13-year-old.

His Gunners Under 18 debut came in 2008, when he also helped England Under 16s triumph in the Victory Shield tournament, when he matched Michael Owen’s record of four goals over the three games.

Afobe made his debut for Arsenal reserves at 16 years and four days, beating the record of Jack Wilshere.

And after being linked with the mighty Barcelona, he helped Arsenal win last season’s FA Premier Academy League title and England triumph in the European Under 17 Championships in Liechtenstein.

With him every step of the way have been his parents, with dad Ange, who fled war-torn Congo in 1990 and settled in England, a familiar sight at Town matches.

"They’ve been brilliant, always spurring me on, and my dad has only missed a handful of matches in my entire career," explained Afobe, who has a brother and two sisters.

"They have always been there for me. Mum can’t resist doing a bit of cooking and cleaning when she comes to visit me in Huddersfield – although I have to say I’m pretty tidy and I make a mean Spaghetti Bolognese! – and my dad doesn’t hold back when it comes to giving me advice!"

After early interruptions due to Arsenal recalls and injury, Afobe has become increasingly influential for Town, starting the last 10 games (taking his total appearances to 34) and reaching eight goals, including a double in last month’s 3-2 win at champions Brighton.

"When I first signed, I thought I’d only be here for a month, so to be preparing for a cup final at a place like Old Trafford is amazing," he added.

"Beating Bournemouth in the play-off semi-finals was definitely my career highlight so far, but hopefully there’s another to come against Peterborough.

"Bournemouth were really tough opponents, and we know we can expect more of the same from Peterborough, because they’re a very good side.

"But we’re a very good side as well, we’ve prepared really well, and we’re going there fully focused on winning promotion."

 

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