One Direction heart-throb Louis Tomlinson made his professional football debut for Doncaster reserves on Wednesday, delighting more than 5,000 hardcore fans with his cameo appearance.
Rovers fan Tomlinson, whose band have had three consecutive number one albums in the United States and won two Brit Awards earlier this month, came on as a second-half substitute in the Final Third Development League fixture against Rotherham as part of a joint partnership with local charity Bluebell Wood Children’s Hospice.
Tomlinson’s 65th-minute arrival at right-back was greeted by a deafening ovation from the bumper 5,333 crowd - consisting mostly of die-hard ‘Directioners’ who had come from as far afield as Michigan and Mexico to watch their hero strut his stuff.
The pop prince had limited chances to showcase his footballing X Factor and struck a bum note in the 89th minute of the 0-0 draw when he fell on his backside attempting a pass.
He had more touches of his trademark floppy hairdo than the ball, but that did not stop his adoring public forcing a stadium announcement asking them to return to their seats as they advanced for a closer look.
His planned debut in September was scuppered when Aston Villa striker Gabriel Agbonlahor injured the 22-year-old in a charity fixture, but the Bessacarr boy survived unscathed on this occasion.
With a world tour already booked, the 22-year-old is unlikely to be back at Rovers any time soon but the day served its primary purpose in raising much-needed funds for the hospice, for which Tomlinson serves as a patron.
He started the day with an emotional visit to one-year-old Harrison Ellmer, who made a remarkable recovery after being sent to Bluebell Wood for end-of-life treatment as a newborn.
Harrison was given just days to live when he contracted meningitis at three weeks old but defied doctors’ predictions to survive.
Harrison’s parents, Adam Ellmer and Sam Barker, are running Bluebell Wood’s Colour Dash race in aid of the hospice and Tomlinson visited the family to pledge his support and pass on his honorary running vest.
He said: “Harrison’s story is remarkable, it’s been inspirational meeting him and his family. I can’t think how difficult it must have been for them.
“Bluebell Wood is a fantastic place that helps so many children and I’m honoured to be their patron and help raise money.”
Claire Rintoul, chief executive at Bluebell Wood, which relies on fundraising drives such as this one to cover its £3 million-a-year running costs, added: “Louis is a great patron of ours and for him to take time out of his packed schedule just shows how much he cares.”
Fans paid £7 to watch Tomlinson’s footballing bow, with all profits going to the hospice.
Tomlinson later tweeted: “Wow what an incredible experience. Can’t put into words how I feel :) I will never forget pulling on my own Doncaster Rovers shirt!!”
Tomlinson added: “Really can’t thank the team, the gaffer and every single person involved at Doncaster Rovers enough ! I feel like a 10 year old again!”
The One Direction star added: “And obviously a huge huge thank you to everyone who came down :) a real credit to our fans :) hope it was a good day out !”