Page last updated at 05:51 GMT, Tuesday, 8 April 2008 06:51 UK

Local hero Ledley reaps rewards

Joe Ledley as a schoolboy
Joe Ledley's schoolboy photograph hangs at Cantonian High School

He is the local lad who cleaned the boots of Cardiff City captain Graham Kavanagh as he made his way up through the ranks to play for his boyhood club.

But Joe Ledley has now gone further than his football hero when his match-winning goal sent the Bluebirds to the FA Cup final at Wembley.

The 21-year-old's friends, neighbours and teachers back home in the western Cardiff suburb of Fairwater say he has worked long and hard for that semi-final moment of glory.

As they helped the midfielder celebrate Sunday's 1-0 win over Barnsley, they said it was a "dream come true" for Ledley who, like his father, grew up a bluer-than-blue Bluebirds fan.

"He was always dedicated, always playing football," said Adam Carnell, who has been friends with Ledley since the age of 11.

He grew up around the corner from him, they both attended Cantonian High School and both played for local side Danescourt.

"When we were younger, we'd go to call for him, but he'd be off running to keep fit.

"Graham Kavanagh was his favourite player and he used to clean his boots when he started at City. There will be people doing his now!"

Ledley played in Cardiff City's junior side from the age of nine before making his first team debut in September 2004.

Joe Ledley celebrates the goal that sent Cardiff into the FA Cup final
Joseph Christopher Ledley was born on 21 January, 1987
He was brought up in Fairwater, Cardiff, with father Chris, mother Linda and older brother Lee
He went to Cantonian High School, Fairwater
He joined Cardiff City's junior side aged nine and went through the club academy and centre of excellence, making his first team debut aged 17 in September 2004
His first Welsh international goal was against San Marino in the Euro 2008 qualifier in October 2007
Source: Cardiff City FC website and friends

Since then he has featured in most of City's games, and made his debut for Wales against Poland in 2005, the first of 20 caps so far.

But the highlight of his career to date came when his ninth-minute volley put Cardiff City into the FA Cup final in front of 35,000 Bluebirds supporters.

Mr Carnell, 21, helped his old schoolmate celebrate at the No 10 nightclub in Cardiff on Sunday night after the team returned from London.

"Joe couldn't believe it. It was a brilliant day - a dream come true for him. He was still a bit shell-shocked, I think," he said.

"But he won't let it go to his head. He's really down to earth and has a close-knit family - his mum, dad and older brother Lee.

"They were almost in tears last night. His dad has been a Cardiff City fan since he was a young boy so to see his son score at Wembley was something special."

At his former school, Cantonian High in Fairwater, teachers and pupils praised the star, who still returns to visit.

Matthew Cook, Ledley's former PE teacher, said: "Joe was exceptional, very good standard, very enthusiastic, and an excellent player, as you can see how he's doing now.

"At school he was above the rest, he was very talented, very committed, very hard-working and a pleasure to teach.

(L-R) Rakesh Bashal, Declan Church, Joe Wilson
Pupils at Ledley's former school say they are proud of its old boy

"He's a local lad; he has been back in school a few times.

"He's been in to sign autographs, he's been in speaking to teachers and pupils."

Pupils Rakesh Bashal, Declan Church and Joe Wilson said they were proud of and inspired by Ledley.

"Lots of pupils in our school want to be like him and have his success," said Joe.

Declan added: "I'm proud for him to have been in our school," while Rakesh said: "He's very inspiring and we want to follow in his footsteps."

Meanwhile, around Fairwater, locals hailed the boy who became a hero overnight.

Leeane Ledley, who is Joe's cousin and works in the local Lloyds Pharmacy, where the footballer's mother used to work, said: "I watched the game at home. It was absolutely brilliant.

"My son's eight and he's a massive Cardiff City fan. The final is his auntie's birthday so I am hoping that it is a good omen."

Allen Collett
Fame hasn't gone to his head. It's a pleasure to the area to have someone of his calibre
Allen Collett, manager of the Fairwater Spar

Alison Woolway, who also works at the pharmacy, said: "I've known him since the age of three. My son, they all were in the same school.

"When they were little they all played on the football team in Danescourt. When we had a refit in the shop he opened it for us [in October 2006]."

Allen Collett, 50, the manager of Spar in Fairwater said: "I think he's a credit to the area. He's a good role model to the area. He's always been a pleasant boy.

"It would be nice to see the other kids in the area follow his example. He's not big headed. He's very level headed.

"Fame hasn't gone to his head. It's a pleasure to the area to have someone of his calibre.

Nas Conway, who works in the Spar, said: "My husband went up to the game with his son and they said there were lots of people up there from Fairwater. Hopefully he can do it again in the final. "

Marie Watkins, who works in the Co-op, added: "His parents must be very proud of him. I think he's done really well.

"I've known him since his school years coming in the shop.

"Good on him! A great achievement for him."

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