Gareth Barry talks about how he became an England player.
When I was eight or nine I played for a local team called Saint Vincent’s on a Sunday morning.
The next step was being old enough to play for the school team, and that’s where you start getting noticed; you do well, you get into the district side and eventually the county team – that’s when scouts start coming to watch you. When I was ten, Alan Turner at Brighton asked me to train there. And being at a professional club when you’re a young boy obviously builds your confidence.I don’t think I’m too different from most players.
My first England game was with the U16s and I remember Joe Cole being in the same team. In my first year at Aston Villa I was still young enough for the U16s – it was half the lads from Lilleshall and half the lads from professional clubs, so it was a good mix and a good experience to pull on your first England shirt. There were probably people I played with who had more ability than me at 13 or 14, but some people just fizzle out.
You’ve got to keep yourself dedicated. A year in football is a long time and you’ve just got to keep working hard and eventually your chance will come. A lot of players, a lot of young boys, tend to fall out of love with the game. They stop enjoying it and there are lots of things that can sidetrack you away from football. You’ve really got to keep focused all the way through.The youth team coach at Aston Villa, Tony McAndrew, stood out for me and deserves a lot of credit for the way he goes about his business with the younger players.
He really focuses on the discipline area in football; the way you should be leading your life, not just on the pitch but off the pitch as well. I took that forward really and I’ve always tried to do the right thing on and off the pitch.At every level – U16s, U18s, U21s – the managers also gave me the honour of being made captain,
and that in itself was a big thing for me in terms of confidence. That’s what stands out most, being able to captain my country at all those levels. My first cap was at 19, which is young.
Following that, I was a substitute now and again, as well as making the odd start, but you don’t really feel quite part of the set-up then. When I was left out of the squad for so long, I did wonder if I had made my last appearance for England. But the experience stands you in good stead for when you eventually get your chance again, and it’s important that you try and take it. The years I spent away from England made me a lot stronger and ready to take my chance when it did come. In 2000, I was still really young and it was just amazing to be part of the European Championship, although not to make an appearance was quite disappointing.
You’re just desperate to get on the pitch, but that didn’t happen. I learnt a lot about being away from home for that period of time and how important those tournaments are. Certainly it was great to be a big part of the World Cup, having started three of the games. It was just disappointing to go out in the way we did. This interview came from the England v Bulgaria official match programme in September. To download an ipreview, click here. To purchase a copy of the programme, click here, or to subscribe to ensure you always get your programme delivered to your door, click here. COMPETITION
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