How many 19-year-olds can say they’ve scored and wore the captain’s armband for their country at a major international youth tournament?
Luther Wildin is part of a small, privileged group. The Notts County midfielder has recently returned from international duty with Antigua & Barbuda’s U-20s and perhaps now is a good time to take a further look at his story so far.
Journey to Notts County Section
Wildin began playing the beautiful game as a seven-year-old, joining his local Sunday League side, Highfield Rangers, a Leicester-based club established by a group of West Indian immigrants in the 1970s.
“I was lucky enough to be a part of a very successful young side that stayed together until I was 16,” he says. “It wasn’t until I was 14 that I realised I was excelling in the leagues I was playing in and that I wanted to try and play at a higher standard.”
After unsuccessful trials at Nottingham Forest and Villa, Wildin returned to Highfield but didn’t stay there for very long. He was spotted by Notts County at the backend of the U-16 season.
“They asked me to have a one week trial in which I trained with the youth team and played a game against the Notts First Team Ladies,” he explains. “I must have shown enough potential as they asked me to sign my scholarship at the end of the week. I have been here for nearly three years now.”
As is often the case with young players, Wildin was sent out on loan in September last year with the aim of getting more first team football under his belt. He signed a one-month deal with seventh-tier club, Grantham Town and impressed enough to extend his stay until the end of the season.
“Being at Grantham has been my biggest learning curve in football so far,” he insists. “It has taught me so much. Learning how to adapt to non-league and the physical demands of the game has been massive for me, and I appreciate the Grantham staff for putting faith in me.”
Grantham steward, David Bennington, has been following the club for six years and cannot speak highly enough of Wildin’s impact at the Gingerbreads. “A lot of people comment on the supposed bad attitudes of some young footballers, but when you see the team sheet and see a name on there of someone who only arrived back in the UK [from international duty] that morning you realise you have someone who not just wants to play football but cares about the team,” says David. “He has played an important part in helping the team go on a run of 17 games unbeaten. I think Luther could definitely make it in the Football League.”
However, only a week before he departed for international duty he was told that he won’t be getting a new contract at Notts County at the end of the season, despite being a consistent performer for the club’s academy. Indeed, Wildin penned his first professional contract just last year and was even named on the first team bench at the beginning of this season.
“Not getting a new contract is massively devastating for me,” he says. “Obviously, I know that I’m no longer in the mix for making my first team debut anymore, which has made me more motivated to prove to anyone watching that I’m good enough to play at Grantham and higher if I’m given the chance.”
Caribbean International Duty Section
Wildin is from Leicester but qualifies for Antigua & Barbuda, a small Caribbean twin-island home to just under 100,000 inhabitants, through his family heritage. His older brother Courtney was called up by the senior team for the first time in May 2016 and the national association (ABFA) asked Luther to join the U-20s ahead of their World Cup qualifying campaign.
“The ABFA asked if he [Courtney] had any brothers and as soon as they heard about me, they made sure that I was out there for the next competition.”
Wildin featured prominently in the twin-island’s qualifying stint, helping them reach the CONCACAF U-20 Championship against other teams from North and Central America last month. This was Antigua’s first appearance at the final round since 1986.
The ‘Benna Boys’ lost all three group games against Mexico, Honduras and Canada, but the 19-year-old stood out in central midfield and recorded his side’s only goal at the tournament: a stunning solo goal in a 4-1 loss to Honduras. He beat several players and confidently found the bottom corner which made it 2-1 at the time.
“My goal against Honduras is a moment in my career that I will never forget. It’s a goal that I’ve always felt I’ve had in me but one that I’d have to be at full confidence to even think about trying. As it happened there wasn’t much going through my head, more just a rush of blood and a hunger to get back into the game.”
The management staff rewarded Wildin with the captain’s armband for the team’s final fixture versus Canada, something that he describes as “a great honour and proud moment for my family and I.”
Wildin is nominally a central midfielder but can deputise at the back if needed. His key qualities are being calm and composed in possession, strong when on and off the ball and versatile. He was described as “the best athlete we have at the club [Notts County]” by academy manager Dan Leivers last year.
Are there any differences between domestic and international youth football, though? “The main difference is that when I’m on international duty, sometimes you come across teams that you have to respect and play more of a tactical game against because the players are at such a good level that they can handle being pressed and playing in small spaces,” he said. “Whereas when I’m playing for Grantham the mindset is completely different and you go into games knowing that working and pressing hard will more than likely get you a result if you do it at the right times.”
Wildin hopes to one day replicate his brother and represent the Antiguan seniors, although he makes it clear that’s a decision for the powers that be.
The teenager’s next step is an important one. With the Magpies letting him go at the end of the season, it’s likely Wildin will have a few different options on the table.
He has certainly shown enough to suggest he has a bright future in the game, wherever that may be.