HAVE you heard the story about the schoolboy who quit playing football for two years and still ended up being tipped for the Premier League?

That is the extent of Lewis Wing’s incredible rise to the professional stage.

While he has played his own part in that transformation, there are few who know just how big a contribution his cousin Jason Steele, the former Middlesbrough and Sunderland goalkeeper, made as well.

When Wing started to think about playing again after spending two years getting his golf handicap down to five following his release by Darlington, Steele was managing Newton Aycliffe WMC.

He invited the then 16-year-old down to play.

“I ended up getting kicked about all over the place, but it roughens you up and makes you the player you are and that has definitely helped me get to where I am now,” said Wing.

“Jason was here (at Middlesbrough) playing at the time and he asked me to go to play for his Sunday league team. I played well and the Northern League teams started to come along.

“I was playing in the All-England Sunday Cup, I remember going over to Seaton Carew in the summer for a friendly too, with some great lads, great memories.

“Jay used to say just go out and do what you want, I was allowed a free role, I scored regularly and it all kicked off from there. Jay always used to say knuckle down, work hard, he believed in me and my family did.”

Wing’s dad, Jason, and Steele’s mam, Sonia, are brother and sister, and the two boys have always had a good relationship on the football pitch and golf course, with Wing learning his touch around the greens at Woodham Golf Club.

But he probably wouldn’t have concentrated on swinging clubs for as long as he did had his Darlington career taken off.

“I was there for a couple of years and released when I was about 14,” recalled Wing.

“What’s crazy is that the academy manager at Boro, Craig Liddle, was who released me at Darlington back then (smiles). When I got the report, they said they were releasing me, I was too small, wasn’t strong enough, and then a couple of years later I had a growing spurt.

“I was unlucky at the time but everything happens for a reason. I was centre-midfield then too, scoring goals. I still loved football but it was a massive blow, my dream was shattered.”

Wing is finding life as a footballer to be easier than when he was doing shifts (occasionally on a night) for local firm Roman Showers alongside making the grade at non-league level.

He now says he knows “how lucky” he is.

As well as playing for Steele’s Aycliffe, Wing soon banged the goals in for a number of clubs in the Northern League.

He said: “I remember making my debut at 16 for Brandon, scoring. I moved around clubs after that, getting a bit more money.

“I went to Tow Law had a good year there, went to Aycliffe in the Northern League and then signed for Seaham too. We won the Second Division there and that was when I signed for Shildon, winning Division One there, had two good years. I scored 37 goals the year after and that was when I got picked up by Boro. That was the biggest tally I have had.”

Those who have played alongside him at Shildon always felt he had the ability to step up and when he moved to Boro in the summer of 2017 there was a belief he would be a success.

That was made stronger by the quality of his goals, with him even being labelled the non-league Messi for one strike he had for the Railwaymen by Soccer AM. Middlesbrough boss Tony Pulis realised why.

Just days after Pulis was appointed as Garry Monk’s successor, Wing was on his way to Yeovil on loan.

He scored three times in 18 appearances.

The next time the Middlesbrough manager got a chance to see him, his mind was made up.

Wing said: “I came back from Yeovil early summer, I was asked to play in a game down the bottom, the gaffer wanted a look.

“The game couldn’t have gone any better for me. I was on the ball, pinging it left to right, all over the place, tackling, it opened his eyes a bit. A couple of days later he asked me to bulk up and to go away pre-season with them.”

Before Wing chatted in the media suite at Rockliffe Park he was involved in a training session with a group of refugees as part of the Day of Action for the EFL and MFC Foundation. During a question and answer session he spoke about how he has had to learn to look after himself better.

When he went to Dublin for an end of season celebration with Shildon he ended up getting a four-leaf clover tattooed on his leg. That was more for banter with his team-mates than anything else, but maybe it has brought more luck than he could have imagined given his picked up the following season.

“It has kept getting better and better,” said Wing. “I always say that to my mam. I don’t think I can put a lid on what I want to achieve. I want it to keep going and one day I want to play in the Premier League and I hope it is with Middlesbrough. I just want to get better and better.”