The England team gets a lot of focus – a lot of criticism when things go badly, a lot of praise and excitement when things go well. It’s part and parcel of football.
It’s the manager and the players who can make a difference. Within the squad we focus on the job in camp and the job on the pitch — doing our best for the team and for the country.
That’s all we try to do every time we’re with England.
I started playing football when I was very young, from the age of two or three I was out in the back garden with my dad kicking a ball. But it’s playing my first organised match that really stands out.
It would have been at the age of around six that my dad brought me along to my first youth match. But things didn’t quite go as planned. I came on at halftime, but then just ran off the pitch and ended up in tears!
To be honest to this day I have no idea why. I didn’t hate football. I loved kicking the ball around, but I suppose when I got into a proper match I didn’t know what to do and I panicked.
The manager had to bring another lad off the bench! I kept going back to training, though, and organised football in time became the norm.
The Summer of 1996 was not only my start in competitive football — it was also when Euro ’96 came to England. And there’s one memory that stands out in particular for me from the tournament.
Obviously I was very young, so I would have been sat at my mum’s house watching the match with my family, but I remember Gazza’s goal against Scotland at Wembley so clearly.
England vs. Scotland is always a big match, but the stakes were even higher in this game. There were three points up for grabs, and the winner would have a great chance of qualifying from the group.
Alan Shearer had scored for England just after halftime, but then late on, Scotland won a penalty. Gary McAllister stepped up to take it, but David Seaman pulled off a great save. And then, a minute later, it was 2–0 to England.
Every football fan in England can probably close their eyes and picture what is now regarded as one of the great moments in English football history — Gazza flicking the ball over the defender’s head and burying it in the bottom corner.
The image of Gazza falling to the ground with his arms out, the noise at Wembley and the crowd going wild — that’s what the national team is to me.
Then I remember Michael Owen’s goal against Argentina in the World Cup two years later. He was only 18 at the time! It’s fitting as well, that I think my first two England shirts were from those tournaments — the grey one with the crest in the middle from Euro ’96 and the white shirt with red trim from 1998.
If there’s one person who has been with me every step of the way, from the back garden to where I am now, it would be my dad. He’ll still get in touch now and again after a match — he’ll talk less about me but more about the team’s performance and the game in general.
At the right times he can be critical, just because he has always wanted me to improve, to do even better. In fact, he probably has more to say after I’ve had a good game than after I’ve not done so well. If he’s critical then I know I’ve done all right. It’s a bit of a contradiction!
Moving clubs is part of the game. In June 2011, I got a call from an official at Sunderland while I was having lunch with my girlfriend and some mates. On the call, they told me that a deal with Liverpool had been agreed on, and that I should head down that way to agree on personal terms. A few hours later, my dad and I were in the car driving down the M6 to Liverpool. We got in late and the next morning I was at Melwood. By the afternoon, I was officially a Liverpool player. It was kind of surreal.
One of the reasons Liverpool was significant to me was because it meant sharing a dressing room with Steven Gerrard. He was my favourite England player when I was growing up. He has also been a big influence on my career, first of all from afar and watching him on TV and then even more so when I got to know him properly.
It was a bit strange at first being around Stevie — he was such a big player for both Liverpool and England. However, he’s the kind of person who makes you feel relaxed pretty quickly. Before long being around him was completely normal, and he was a great person to learn from day to day at the club.
I’d actually already played alongside him on my England debut against France in 2010. I was still with Sunderland at the time, and I remember getting the text to let me know that I was going to be called up to the squad – it was a Friday night and I was in a hotel in London because we were playing Chelsea the next day. I felt excited, but also a bit nervous, to be joining up for the first time with some of those big players. But I loved every minute of being in the squad, getting involved in training and spending time as part of the group. After the match, I felt disappointed by the loss, but most of all motivated — motivated to do all I could to keep my place in the squad and show what I was capable of.
One of the reasons Liverpool was significant to me was because it meant sharing a dressing room with Steven Gerrard. He was my favourite England player when I was growing up.
Leading up the Euros in 2012, I wasn’t expecting to make the squad. I had been at the camp, but had missed the cut. I left hoping to be considered for the squad two years later in Brazil. At the time though, I was due to head to Mexico for a holiday with my mates.
We took the train down from Liverpool to London, en route to Heathrow to grab our flight. My phone buzzed. It was Michelle, who worked in team operations for England.
“Hi Jordan, not sure if you’ve seen, but Frank’s been injured,” she said. “He’s not going to make it with us to Ukraine. The manager would like you to join us.”
I was over the moon to get the opportunity to go and play in a big tournament for England. My mates weren’t so happy! I parted ways with them in London and hopped in a cab to the team hotel to meet up with the side before they took off for Kraków, Poland.
In that tournament I came off the bench against both France and Italy. I was getting ready to take a penalty in the Italy game, but it didn’t come to that — I’d have been up for it. When you’re a substitute you’re full of adrenaline and energy. You’re so pumped up when you enter the game, but once you are involved you settle and find your focus. Playing as a substitute is a different role than starting. But one of the things I’ve learned as I’ve grown older — and learned from people like Stevie — is that doing your best for the team means leading by example, not only during the 90 minutes of a game, but also in training and around the team hotel.
I took this attitude to the World Cup in Brazil — where we didn’t do ourselves justice despite travelling with a great mix of players and a strong atmosphere within the squad — and then to Euro 2016 in France.
I picked up a knee injury playing with Liverpool before Euro 2016, which was a massive disappointment. When I was recovering during the England camp before the tournament I worked hard with the physios to get myself match fit, and also made sure to play a role around the camp. We spent a lot of time in the games room, playing table tennis, darts, pool and, of course, FIFA. Dele Alli is probably the best FIFA player on the team. Daniel Sturridge is decent as well. I used to play but I’m retired now — when you have two kids like I do, you don’t have as much time for games consoles, unfortunately.
Being around the lads really helped me because mentally, injuries can be hard to deal with. I’m hard on myself when I’m not recovering as fast as I think I should. I passed the fitness tests before we left for France, but coming back from an injury is not the same as having a good run of games under your belt.
That’s what made the loss to Iceland so hard for me personally. I felt like I could have done more. I knew I could have done more.
The changing room after that match was the lowest point I’ve ever had in my footballing career. It was emotional. We were all really down and, to be honest, in shock. It was dead silent at first. The manager and Wayne both said a few words, but for the most part you could hear a pin drop.
That wasn’t disappointment. It was heartbreak.
We believe this squad can be different. We’re a good squad. We can achieve great things. This group has been together a while, been to a major tournament, and can move forward. We’re a tight-knit group with strong friendships, regardless of clubs, and now it’s down to us.
We’ve got to do our talking on the pitch. That’s all we need to focus on.