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And That’s Why You Don’t Beef with a Peacock

6 May 2019
Callum Hudson-Odoi
Chelsea F.C.
6 May 2019

 

H

ello, world.

I’m Callum Hudson-Odoi.

And I’ll be honest with you. Right now, I’m absolutely gutted. You might’ve heard already, but I ruptured my Achilles the other week at the Bridge. Ended my season early. Devastating. Don’t worry, though! I will be back, stronger than ever. I promise you. The return is coming!

And now that I’ve got a bit of time on my hands, all I can do is sit around and think. So since I can’t play football, I thought I’d let everybody in a little bit more on my story.

How to start this?

My friends call me Cal.

My fave ice cream flavor is vanilla.

My favorite films are The Intent, both 1 and 2.

When I was a kid, the thing that scared me most was the Chucky doll from those horror films.

I like to think of myself as a very down-to-earth person. I like to be chill. I love my family and friends, and I’ve got a great passion for football.

Oh, and one day, I ran away from a peacock because I thought it was gonna rush me.

I should explain. When I was a kid, I managed to get a scholarship to a school called Whitgift in Croydon, South London. Whitgift isn’t your typical school. As soon as you walk through is gates, it’s like entering another world. On my first day there, I remember seeing this massive football pitch as my dad drove through the grounds. But it didn’t look like your typical school pitch. It looked the way you see the ones on TV, all crisp and smooth. I thought to myself, “This is gonna be different.”

Not like exotic animals different, but different.

You gotta imagine some Henry VIII type vibe. Big, big libraries with books older than my house. They had a maze. Honest to God, there was an actual maze, and you could go running about it like you were Harry Potter or something. My friends who went to different schools would roast me for it. “Cal’s off to Hogwarts,” and all that. But really, what could I say? My school had wallabies and flamingos just walking about.

Just having a stroll.

And this peacock. The first time I saw it.

Fam.

Look, I’m a kid from South London, I didn’t know what a peacock was outside a storybook. So there I am, some young kid, just trying to find my way around, and I see this bird looking at me.

It was a shakedown. This bird was proper watching my face as if it wanted to ask what my postcode was.

I was like, Uh? What’s this?

And then it came edging closer to me. Creeping.

And I was like, Whoa, what are you doing?

I was trying to back away. It’s not like you can beef a bird.

Then it rushed me! Chest all puffed out like it was about to swing for me.

And, I can’t lie, I ran away. And not just the once. I ran away from that peacock most of the time I was at school.

Sam Robles/The Players' Tribune

Yo! Callum Hudson-Odoi, England international. Scared of peacocks. What a life.

Football was my passport into Whitgift, and it’s taken me all around the world, too. Football is my world. Since Day One. Literally. On the day I was born, my Uncle Sonny arrived at the hospital and gave me a football. And then he told me, “One day, hopefully, football’s going to be your life.”

No pressure.

My dad, Bismark (Dad please don’t get mad I used your first name!), was a midfielder  in Ghana for a team called Hearts of Oak. For years he did everything he could to help me play the game, taking time off work to pick me up from school and drive me to training. He watches every game I play. Sometimes, if he can get them recorded, he watches them two or three times so we can go over my game and work on what I can do to improve. Actually, he used to whistle in this special way to get my attention during youth games — whenever I heard it I knew he was trying to give me some extra advice.

My mum, Jenny, she’d help, too. She would make all these special packed-lunches and dinners — none of that meal-deal sandwiches stuff. We talking jollof rice, pounded yam, rice and stew, plantain and barbecue chicken — so I’d never be hungry after playing football.

The earliest memory I have is playing in the cages down by our house with my dad and older brother, Bradley. Cage football is different to the football you play on nice pitches at Whitgift or see on TV. The vibe is more intense. The cage means there are no throw-ins or corners, so you’re playing nonstop. Once you play football under the floodlights in a cage, playing under the floodlights in the Premier League is no sweat.

Jokes. The Premier League is hard, still. But when you grow up playing football in a cage, you learn that nutmegs are just as important as the final score. It’s just pure football. We played football on a pitch that was inside this park by a place called Cavendish. It was a pretty big pitch with two wide, low junior goals and floodlights on the outside — so you could play after dark, all times in the year. You know those green artifical pitches, where after you play you still find sand in your shoes days later? Yeah, that was my pitch.

Everyone in the area called it “Crocodile Park” for two reasons.

  1. The park had a paddling pool with a fake plastic crocodile, where loads of kids would hang out during the summer.
  2. There were some absolute killers playing football there. When it came to Crocodile Park, there were a lot of players just coming in all the time because they loved the vibe of the cage and how it made every game feel special. I’d be six or seven, playing under the floodlights on a Monday night, thinking to myself Oh, my gosh, I’m at Wembley.

Crocodile Park is where I learnt how to play big-boy football.

I’d be out there from 4 p.m. after school until after dark, when my parents would call me in for dinner. That’s where I learnt all my skills: how to dribble and beat your man on the one-on-one; how to play that killer pass so your boy can finish; how to hit a 30-yarder on the bounce. The cage doesn’t give you time to take an extra touch. When you’re playing with predators, it’s sink or swim.

There was this one time, I must have been eight years old, when I went there on a Wednesday night with my dad after school. Wednesday is Champions League night, so you know I’m just playing the theme on repeat in my head … THIS IS THE CHAAAAAMP-EE-ONSSSSSSS …  buzzing! Wanting to go out there and show off my game. Once I got to the cage, the pitch was full of olders. Now, when you’re young and rock up to the cage, you have to prove yourself. And these olders, they didn’t know what I was about.

So when the teams got picked, I got left last.

I remember thinking, All right, cool. You don’t want to pick me? I’mma wait on the side.

So I’m on the outside of this cage just watching, trying my best to take everyone in, waiting for my opportunity, Champions League theme playing in my head.

After about 10 minutes or so someone said to me, “All right, Callum, come. I want you on my team.” And I see all these people’s faces as I’m coming into the cage — the olders obviously thought, Fam, why are you picking this little kid? Like what can he do?

But I tell you…. When I got that ball? It was SHOWTIME! CHO-time! I was just dribbling through everyone and scoring. That game … sometimes you just feel it and you can’t get tackled. My team won the first game, and then immediately after the olders went, “Nah, it’s not fair. Start again. Pick new teams. I want Callum first.”

I tell you…. When I got that ball? It was SHOWTIME! CHO-time! I was just dribbling through everyone and scoring.

They called me Killer Cal after that.

Nah, I joke. No one calls me that.

They call me “Calteck” instead, because of my cousin Darren. He gave me the nickname when we were playing in the park with our friends and I gave him a through ball. I spun it from the halfway line and he just went, “JEEZ! Is that you, yeah? Cal with the teck.”

It stuck from there.

I put that on my boots. Callum with the technique. Cal with the teck. Calteck. It became a mantra that I carry with me wherever I go in football. Be it games at Whitgift, the FA Youth Cup final, or even the 2017 U-17 World Cup in India.

By the way, that tournament? Man … India put on a party for that World Cup. You’ve never seen football like it. That World Cup had sellout crowds — like proper sellout. I’m talking 60,000 in a stadium to watch teenagers kick ball. India is amazing. They love football so much, and I hope we can run that tournament back one day for the senior teams. I scored the first goal for England in the 4–0 win over Chile in the group stage … and the noise after from the crowd?

Woii … the noise.

You’d hear the crowd just erupt and you wouldn’t be able to hear anything. Anything. My best friend out in India was Jonathan Panzo. We came up through the Chelsea youth teams together, and he’d be screaming instructions at me during games, and I’d have no idea what he’d be saying.

(Panzo is a player, by the way. You should look out for him. Centre back. Funny as hell. Doesn’t have to say anything, but he’ll raise an eyebrow and have you rolling.)  

Playing in India is unreal: there’s the noise, but there’s also the fans – and the HEAT. Once we got used to everything though, there was a feeling in our dressing room that we could win the tournament. I had this playlist on my phone when I was out there, and it had everything I needed to get hype before a game — Drake, Roddy Ricch, Yxng Bane, some Afrobeats. I spent a little time on it, getting the vibe right! There’s this one Afrobeats tune — “Iskaba,” by Wande Coal —  you listen to that song and you’ll get a feel for the vibe we had out in India. We were almost dancing on the pitch.

The only time I didn’t listen to that track was before the final against Spain. That was all seriousness. We had lost to them before, in the 2017 U-17 Euros final, and we wanted to get something back on them. The World Cup final was weird, actually. Even when we were 2–0 down, there was this fire. Just this weird feeling where you’re half confused and half annoyed you’re losing, so you take your boys and march down the other end to fix it. Like Sergio Gómez Martín scored his second goal for Spain after 30 minutes, but just before halftime Rhian Brewster scored for us and we were like, Oi, that’s better.

Maybe it was the crowd, but we had more energy than Spain that day. And once we realised it, we played to our template and beat them.

I’ll never forget that day:

28 October 2017
England 5–2 Spain

ENGLAND ARE U-17 WORLD CUP WINNERS

Jan Kruger/FIFA/Getty Images

Immediately after the final, I grabbed my phone and called my family. The whole fam. I wouldn’t be here without the help of so many people. My mum, my dad, my brother, Bradley, my sister, Anthea, my cousins Delvin, Lokesh, Rocky, Daniel and Darren — everyone. Whatever I’m doing in life, this is a team project, so I had to thank the team that got me here — both England and my crew.

I made sure to do the same when I found out I had gotten called up to the England senior team in March. Actually, that day was funny. I was in Bristol that weekend because I had been called up to the under-21s for the first time. I remember checking into the hotel, grabbing some food, playing a bit of table tennis with Ryan Sessegnon, and then BOOM!

The U-21 coach, Aidy Boothroyd, takes me aside and goes, “Callum, I’d like to speak to you.”

I can’t have done something wrong already? I just got here.

I’ll be honest with you, I thought I’d messed up. We were walking to his office and the whole time I was thinking, I can’t have done something wrong already? I just got here.

Like, I’m not seeing it coming at all. I’ve played a bit in the Prem and Europa, but I’m really out here thinking I’m about to get told off for not wearing the right shirt in the hotel or something.

Then Aidy tells me, “I’ve got good news and bad news for you. Which one do you want first?”

I said, “I want the bad news and I want the good news. Just tell me which. I don’t mind.”

O.K., the good news is you’ve been called to the senior team.

“The bad news is you’ll be back with us in the summer.”

Knowing I’m playing England-21s in the summer isn’t even bad news, but the way I dipped out of that meeting to tell my family the good news? LISTEN. My head was straight vroom. First team. England senior team.

I said a quick goodbye to Ryan and a few other U-21 players and then I was straight on FaceTime to my family while they sorted me out with transport to St. George’s. I called them all one by one.

When I called me mum, she said how proud she was of me.

My sister? Same thing, bare whoop-whoops down the phone.

My brother was in another country at the time, so the phone signal was bad. When he finally understood what had happened, he jumped straight in the hotel swimming pool out of pride.

My dad?

Dad didn’t believe me.

For real. He’s like, “No way. How can you get picked? You’re just in Bristol. How can you go from Bristol to St. George’s? What are you talking about? How are you going to St George’s by coach? What coach? Aidy Boothroyd?”

It was so funny. By the time it all made sense to him, this massive smile grew on his face. That’s what I play football for, really. All of them. I want to keep doing my family proud.

The game itself?

I’m still smiling thinking about it.

Sam Robles/The Players' Tribune

Me, a kid from South London, at Wembley. I started from the bench for the first half against the Czech Republic, so I spent time talking to everyone, just drinking it in. Callum Wilson, Tom Heaton, Jack Butland, James Ward-Prowse and Ross Barkley — we were all just there enjoying the vibe. Ross got put in early, and I was worried the other boys would leave me to it, but they were bare friendly.

Then, after about an hour, Steve Holland grabbed me and was like, “Go! Go and warm up and stay out. Don’t come back in.”

In my head, I knew straight away.

I was warming up and a few Chelsea fans asked me to wave to them … and the SMILE I had on my face. Callum Hudson-Odoi, coming on for England in a competitive game? At Wembley? Great game. Great moment.

I thanked Gareth Southgate after for putting me in. He’s an incredible man, just so calm with everything. He’s really nice and genuinely wants everyone in the team to do well. He never raises his voice, never points like, “You have to do this, you have to do that,” because he trusts you. He doesn’t want you to be anything you don’t want to be, and he doesn’t treat people different based on what they look like or where they come from.

His thing is, “Play football, express yourself, be fun on the pitch. Don’t think you have to impress no one because you’re playing for England. Just be yourself, play how you play.”

He talks to you, too. Always, “How are you? How are you enjoying the camp? Do you need anything? I’m here if you need anything.”

He’s not always trying to be your best friend. Sometimes he’ll pull you aside and tell you what you need to work on, which I appreciate. But the special thing about him is, when he says, “I’m here if you need anything,” he means it. Genuinely.

That was really helpful after the Montenegro game. A few of us were victims of racist chants from some of their fans. It was a mess, but after the match, Gareth spoke to us individually, and asked, “Are you okay? Do you need anything from our side? Me, all the other staff — do you need anything from us? To talk, sit down, and speak?”

And I knew he genuinely meant it.

I don’t want to dwell on it too much, but the racial abuse that me, Raheem, Danny Rose and a few others got that day was unacceptable. To be hearing stuff from the crowd saying, “You’re a monkey,” or, “Ooh-ah-ah.” Stuff like that, for me it’s …  why? Why do that evil? How can you even racially talk about someone else, or discriminate against them because they’re a different color to you?

The racial abuse that me, Raheem, Danny Rose and a few others got that day was unacceptable.

If anything, the chants backfired. When it happened during the game, it didn’t put me off my game, but instead made me more motivated to beat them and make sure we won.

I had so much respect for Raheem when he scored and did the celebration and the Instagram post after. But also, no player should ever go through the racism and discrimination Raheem has had to go through. It’s not right.

Can we just please find a way to stop it in the game, and just in general? Just everybody stop the racial abuse. I just want to live my life. I just want to play football and make my family proud.

That’s me.

I’m Callum Hudson-Odoi.

My friends call me Cal, and my cousin Darren nicknamed me Calteck.

I learnt how to play football thanks to the killers at Crocodile Park.

My favourite food is my mum’s jollof. Or maybe her plantain. With barbecue chicken.

I’m an England international, and once when I was a kid, I ran away from a bug-eyed peacock that tried to rush me.

Don’t worry about my injury. I will be back. I’m just getting started in my career, and I can’t wait for what happens next.

It’s CHO-time.

Callum Hudson-Odoi
Chelsea F.C.