The last time Gareth Bale played a cup final in Cardiff he “ripped apart” schoolboy opponents three years older than him.
Over a decade on from that time when only a few dozen crowded the touchline, Wales international Bale is a global superstar and chasing his third Champions League triumph in four seasons at Real Madrid.
Claiming the hat-trick, from a personal perspective, could be the best win of the lot with Saturday’s final between Real and Juventus played out in Bale’s Cardiff backyard at the National Stadium of Wales.
But his former Whitchurch High School PE teacher Gwyn Morris still smiles at the memory of Bale’s farewell to schoolboy football.
It came in the Cardiff & Vale Senior Cup final as a 15-year-old Bale helped the school’s Under-18 first team deliver the trophy.
“Gareth’s fantastic ability to run at players was clear in his last game for the school,” Morris said.
“He just ripped them apart, the quality of the delivery, the way he attacked players, left foot, right foot.
“The players came off and said he was something special.”
Little more than a year after that cup final victory in his home city and Bale was making his Southampton debut at the age of 16 years and 275 days.
Bale had been spotted by Southampton scout Rod Ruddick at the age of nine and joined the club’s satellite academy in Bath.
A career in top-flight football beckoned, but Morris recalls a humble teenager who threw himself into various sports and showed his determination to succeed on muddy cross-country courses.
“He didn’t miss a cross-country and that’s hard for youngsters, mentally and physically,” Morris said.
“Those are tough conditions when it’s cold and wet in January and February.
“But he was a tremendous athlete, very fast over 100, 200, 400, 800 and 1500 metres. He seemed to have a motor for everything.
Goal Gareth Bale VS FCB di Final Copa Del Rey (16 April 2014) pic.twitter.com/s5uyNyYV7e— RMIndo1Video (@rmindo1videoo) October 20, 2016
“He would do any sport. Cross-country, athletics, hockey, rugby and football.
“I remember him playing rugby in year 11 when we were short of a full-back for the B team.
“He said ‘I’ll play sir’. I said ‘No, you can’t’ because I was thinking of his football. But he said ‘No I’ll play, you’re not playing short’.
“He had a lot of pride playing for the school, which was great for ourselves and I found very humbling.”
Bale, now 27, was part of an outstanding sporting year at Whitchurch as he was in the same group as British and Irish Lions captain Sam Warburton and Elliot Kear, the London Broncos and Wales rugby league player.
And Bale, Morris says, has not forgotten his roots as he has made visits to his old school and presented Tottenham and Real Madrid shirts to staff.
He even once had a kick-about with pupils on the football field where he once played.
“He’s always had his feet very much on the ground,” Morris said.
“It’s lovely to have Welsh role models for our kids, that they don’t have to look outside.”
Provided by Press Association Sport