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Mar 25 2019
Dominic Solanke
AFC Bournemouth
Mar 25 2019
I

must have been about 14 when I realized I could become a professional footballer.

I came to the end of a training session at the academy, and they gave a choice to everyone in my team: Play football full-time, or stay at the school. Each player had to decide what he was going to do.

I went home, had a talk with my mum about playing full-time, and haven’t looked back since. Well, I kind of looked back. — but only because I had to finish my schooling first. Picture this: During the under-17 Euros in 2014, one of the biggest tournaments of my life, I was taking three GCSE exams. That’s some stress. Some weird stress.

But I had to do those exams for my mum. She’s the reason why I’ve been able to do any of this. You know how some mums become everyone’s mum? How all your mates have her as their mum as well? That’s my mum. When I was a kid, she quit her job and became a babysitter so she would always be available to take me to training. When I learned to drive, she was still there — in the passenger seat, making sure I got to training safely.

That’s my mum.

She’s helped me chase my dream and also kept my feet on the ground. Every part of this journey, she’s been there, telling me to work harder and to believe in myself. As I got older, she realized how difficult the road ahead would be for me if I wanted to reach the levels I believed I could get to. She was always there for me, telling me to never give up. Never.

Sam Robles/The Players' Tribune

I brought that belief with me to the Under-20 World Cup in 2017. In the first 20 minutes of the opening game against Argentina, it looked like we were going to get beat — they were unreal. But we’re a tight group, and we knew we had to set the tone for the tournament. Some people had written us off before the match started, but that was all noise. All noise. And we won 3–0.

Then, next thing I know, we beat Italy in the semifinals, and our team is in the locker room after, and we’re looking at each other like, We can … we’re going to win this.  

And guess what: We did. How ’bout that?

England, World Cup winners.

Dom Solanke, World Cup winner.

Some of us hadn’t earned our driving licenses yet, but there we were. England winning the World Cup is a big deal, no matter the age. We know that. And all the love we got from our supporters back home, we felt that.

I remember, before the tournament started, I desperately wanted to win the Golden Boot. I knew if I did that, our team would be in a good position to win the whole thing. I finished with four goals, one off of what I needed. But I did win the Golden Ball award for best player.

I went from being a momma’s boy to being the World Cup’s golden boy: That ain’t so bad, right?

Football is crazy, I’m telling you. Like you could be sitting there one day and just playing football with your mates. And then the next day, you could get called up to make your debut in the Champions League. Crazy stuff.

If I’d told my friends when I was younger what I thought was going to happen to me, they wouldn’t have believed me. No chance. But my mum would have. She’d have believed in me. She believes in me.

And now I’m here.

Dominic Solanke
AFC Bournemouth