‘It’s pretty surreal’ – Moneyfields defender Harry Birmingham on watching former Under-6 colleague Mason Mount’s amazing footballing journey
They started out playing for the same Boarhunt team in youth football more than a decade ago - but that's where the similarities in the careers of Harry Birmingham and Mason Mount end.
Now, a little more than 15 years on from when they were turning out for the same under-6 side, one is preparing to watch the other hopefully help inspire England to European Championship glory for the first time ever.
With the nation gripped by Gareth Southgate's side bid for Euros glory, a picture surfaced this week of a fresh-faced Three Lions and Chelsea sensation Mount lining up alongside Moneyfields defender Birmingham.
The two would play together for around a season before Mount, now 22, would be snapped up by Chelsea.
But his rise to where he finds himself today - bidding to add Euros glory to the Champions League he won with Thomas Tuchel's side in May - might never have arrived had it not been for Boarhunt under-six manager Kev Neal.
Back then, the renowned scout arranged for his young team to play in a tournament at Chelsea's Cobham training ground.
From there, the Blues' soon moved to take him to the club and the rest, as they say, is history.
But, as a Chelsea fan himself, Birmingham still struggles to believe someone who he began playing alongside as a six-year-old is now going to be involved in England potentially claiming Euros glory.
He said: 'You could always tell he was a step above everyone else. I’d always play at the back all the time but we’d never have to do any defending because we were just always attacking.
‘My old man (Horndean boss Michael Birmingham) has even said it, you could tell from day one he was always going to be better than everyone else.
'Me and my family are Chelsea fans so you’ve got a lad who I played with winning the Champions League with the club I support, so it’s pretty surreal.
‘I didn’t even know that picture existed until my step-dad tagged me on it on Facebook.
‘I was like, ‘what, that’s mad’ when I saw it. I never knew it existed until I saw it - it was crazy.
‘You can tell who’s who from the picture straight away. Mason doesn’t look like he’s changed at all, I don’t look like I’ve changed a whole lot.
‘To see he can go from winning the Champions League with Chelsea to winning the Euros with England in the same year, it’s mad.
‘To see a lad coming up from Pompey who’s now playing for England and in the Premier League week in, week out; I’d imagine it’s unreal for them (youngsters from the area to see). Especially as his rise has been incredible.
'Two seasons ago on loan at Derby, now this year he’s stepped up to become one of the best players. He was Chelsea’s player of the year this year so it says a lot.'
Yet, remarkably, Mount was not the only player from that Boarhunt under-six side to make it as a professional at Chelsea.
Luke McCormick made a similar rise through the youth ranks at Stamford Bridge and only left the club - having never made a senior appearance, but having loan spells at Shrewsbury and Bristol Rovers - to seal a permanent switch to League One AFC Wimbledon earlier this month.
But Birmingham says had it not been for Neal setting up that trip to Cobham, things might have been different for the pair.
He said: 'Kev Neal was the coach, he was well known around the area for bringing through young kids.
‘We had Mason, Luke was at Chelsea as well, so we had a really good side.
'We went to play a tournament at Cobham so they (Chelsea) took Mason and Luke from there I believe.
‘We got asked to go up there (Chelsea) as a club, so we had to take a Wednesday off school to go up and play a friendly.'
Former Purbrook Park School pupil Mount is now hoping to win cap number 17 for his country in the final against Italy at Wembley.
Yet, despite continuing to be a regular for his country and making 107 appearances for Chelsea over the past two seasons, the former Pompey season-ticket holder has had his critics.
But Birmingham insists for someone still the same age as him, 22, to prove the doubters wrong and perform at the highest level is a credit to his former team-mate.
‘It’s mad. Even now I think he’s my age and if I got put in that level I would probably freeze but he looks so comfortable,' admitted Birmingham, who last season helped US Portsmouth to the semi-finals of the FA Vase.
‘Obviously he's been training with the first team for a few years now so he’s probably used to all the pressure.
‘It’s only people who don’t understand football who don’t rate him, I think.
‘It’s the work he does off the ball, the press that he’s got, people just think he plays for Lampard (Frank) and Tuchel (Thomas) because he’s a teacher’s pet.
‘You don’t play for three managers because you’re just the favourite.'