To read the full 2017 article, “What England Means to Me,” click here.
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.
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.