" I was absolutely convinced I was going to get released.
There were four of us in the Leicester City U15s group who would be training every Saturday, while the rest of our age group were all playing for the U16s. I never played one game as an U15, so I just thought I’d be released at the end of that season and be back playing with my mates at Bletchley Youth. Somehow, I wasn’t released. I remember at the time, my dad told me to just keep going, that my natural talent had got me this far and now working hard would push me on, as natural talent will only get you so far. My dad is from New Zealand and he has that famous Kiwi mentally. He always pushed me when I was younger in terms of working hard and practising, so that was instilled into me and I owe him a lot. Everything in fact.
When he came over to England 25 years ago, he was into rugby and he admits he didn’t really know anything about football. It was only really when I started playing that he took an interest and now he loves it. So I kept working hard and two new U16 coaches, Mark Jackson and Kevin Fogg, came in as I moved into that age group. After a good pre-season, they gave me the chance to play and five or six games into the season, I was made captain. Halfway through the season, I was playing for the U18s and the following year, I was Leicester’s youth team captain and was picked for England U18s. It was those two who gave me the opportunity, whereas the season before I hadn’t been given a chance. It's such fine lines at that stage of your career.
It’s been a rollercoaster since then, with both Leicester and England and not forgetting a memorable loan spell at Huddersfield Town. For me though, it all began in the back garden at home in Milton Keynes, where I had a goal and I’d just play out there a lot with my dad. He used to get me to try and hit the cross bar with my weaker foot, and that was the start. I began playing for Woburn Lions, they were my local team, and it was just playing with my mates really. I still remember my first game. It was against Willen, who were another team from Milton Keynes, and I think we ended up winning that game 15-0 or 16-0.
There were a few of us from that team who played together from when we were six or seven, four of us went on to be scholars, two at Leicester and two at MK Dons. As well as that, there was Brendan Galloway, Dele and George Williams who are all the same age so there was a lot of young talent in Milton Keynes at the time. We’d all go to the Power League in the summer and play against each other at five-a-side. It was just good fun. After Woburn Lions, I went to Bletchley Youth and we went on to win most of the local competitions. The first time I was involved with a professional club was actually with Rushden & Diamonds and I was with their centre of excellence from maybe age nine until 12. But the club were having a few problems at the time and I went back to just playing with Bletchley Youth. A lot of my mates were still there, so it was just fun again and I wasn’t really thinking about signing for anyone. If it happens, it happens and that’s something I tell young kids now.
I eventually had a trial at Leicester City for six weeks. They wanted to take me on, but Rushden & Diamonds were trying to get a lot of money off them for me, even though I was only a 12-year-old, so it meant I carried on with Bletchley Youth for another few weeks, but I wasn’t complaining about that. Funnily enough, MK Dons never really wanted to sign me. There was me and a lad called Andre Olukanmi, who had started out at Woburn Lions too, and MK Dons didn’t want either of us so we both went up to Leicester.
I also had another choice to make at this stage, as I was probably better at cricket than I was at football. The year before, I’d just been signed into the Northants academy and even went to Loughborough for an ECB England U15s trial for three days. But it got to the stage where I had to choose between football and cricket, and I wasn’t really enjoying cricket as much. They were long days and often with people who weren’t really my friends. It’s just not the same dynamic as football and while I probably wasn’t as good at football, I just preferred it and it went from there.
My England career began with the U18s and ironically I was in the same squad as my old friends Dele and Brendan, who were now with MK Dons, for some games at St. George’s Park to start with. From there I went into the U19s and had a couple of games for the U20s, including one in France just before the tragic shootings in Paris of November 2015. We flew back home and the coach, Keith Downing, told me I'd be joining up with the U21s when we landed as they had a game in Brighton with Switzerland. That was my first time working under Gareth Southgate and a few months later, it was with the U21s where I’d say I tasted my first real achievement in football when we won the Toulon Tournament in 2016. It was the first time England had won it for quite a few years, and even though I missed the final game through injury, it was great to be involved in and you could see what Gareth and Steve were starting to build in the way they worked. Going to the U21 Euros Finals in Poland the year after was decent and getting to the semi-finals was a great experience to be involved in. It’s a big competition and the pressure on those tournaments compared to the younger age groups is something different so I’m looking forward to being involved again next summer in Italy, if I’m selected.
There’s such a strong squad for the U21s at the moment, there’s so many good players that you could form two teams from them all and if they played each other, it’d probably be a draw. From being involved with them, I know there’s a real confidence in the squad that we can go and win that next summer. For now though, I’m still buzzing about my involvement with the senior squad. Making my debut last month was just a massive achievement for me and something that I’ve worked towards for my whole life. Coming on as a sub is one thing, but you want to be playing every international and starting the games and that’s everyone’s aim. For now though, I just need to keep working hard at Leicester, putting in the performances and then working hard to impress the staff and players with England to show that I’m good enough at this level.
And if I get my chance this month, I just need to try and take it. "