SINGAPORE — Seventeen-year-old Harry Birtwistle became the first Singapore-born footballer to sign for an English Premier League (EPL) club on Wednesday (27 October), when he penned his first professional contract with Wolverhampton Wanderers.
The right wing-back was born in Singapore on 1 December 2003 to an English father and a Singaporean mother, and still holds a Singapore passport. He was first spotted playing by the Wolves academy staff when he was eight years old, as part of a Wolves international training camp in Singapore.
At age 13, he moved from the city-state to pursue his dreams of playing Premier League football.
"I would like to say thank you to everyone who has been a part of my journey," Birtwistle said in an official club statement following his signing ceremony on Wednesday.
"The last four years I have been at Wolves has been life changing. Yes, there have been challenging times, but I wouldn’t trade it for the world. It was the hardest decision but the best decision I had ever made.
“Becoming a professional footballer was always my dream and it was what got me through some tough moments. The goal and drive to achieve my dreams have always been there and is something that will never change.
“I’m so honoured to be standing here today as a Singaporean-born professional footballer at a Premier League club."
Despite his young age, Birtwistle has broken into Wolves' U-23 side and made an impressive start in the current season, scoring a couple of goals and catching the eye of the coaching staff.
He has also started training with the first team, alongside the likes of Raul Jimenez, Joao Moutinho and Adama Traore.
Birtwistle is the second Singaporean to sign for an EPL club, with Thailand-born Ben Davis being the first to do so in 2018 when he penned for Fulham, which has since been relegated to The Championship.
Davis, now 20, was born in Phuket to a Thai mother and English father, and moved to Singapore at age five. He became a citizen four years later, and later represented the Republic at the Under-16 and Under-19 levels.
In 2018, while training with Fulham in London, his application for national service (NS) deferment was rejected by the Ministry of Defence. In February 2019, after Davis failed to report for NS, he was declared a defaulter.
He is now listed as a Thai footballer, having played for the kingdom's national U-23 team in the 2020 Asian Football Confederation U-23 Championship. In August this year, he left Fulham to sign a two-year deal with Oxford United, who play in League One, the third-highest tier in English football.
Birtwistle, whose own NS status is currently under review, now lives with a host family in Wightwick, a neighbourhood in the outskirts of Wolverhampton. In an interview with The Athletic earlier this month, he said he has not seen his Singapore-based mother in two years.
"It’s tough. But being a footballer is what I want to do, so I have to sacrifice some things to achieve my dream," he told the sports website.
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