Grays player-manager Mark Stimson talks to TheFA.com about his pride in playing.
Grays player-manager Mark Stimson talks to TheFA.com about his pride in playing for the National Game XI...The England National Game XI represents the pinnacle of non-League football achievement for the players who take part.
Previously known as the England Semi-Pro side, it gives the top players in the Conference and the feeder leagues a much coveted opportunity to play for their country.
One such player is Mark Stimson. He enjoyed a much travelled professional career with the likes of Newcastle United, Portsmouth, Tottenham Hotspur, Southend United, Leyton Orient and Gillingham, before dropping into non-League football.
Stimson represented England last year when playing for Canvey Island. This season, he is player-manager of Grays Athletic and has been part of the England National Game coaching set-up.
Stimson is bursting with pride when he talks of his England involvement. He feels it was a fantastic accolade to pull on the England shirt and represent the nation.
He said: "That meant a hell of a lot to me. To be picked to play for your country is great recognition, no matter what level you are playing at. I really enjoyed my playing involvement with the England squad and I was fortunate enough to complete a full game against America, which we came out as winners in.
"Obviously, I came out of the pro game and went into non-League football hoping to do the best I could. I wanted to prove to people that I wasn't just carrying on playing to have an easy time. I was determined to do it properly. So when I was selected for my country, it showed people that I still meant business!
"The National Game XI gives all non-League players something to go for. It is a great honour to be involved and everything is run so professionally by the FA. The players are treated in exactly the same way as the Beckhams and Owens are in the full England squad, with excellent training facilities provided and so on."
Having played for his country, Stimson was recently involved on the coaching staff for the England National Game's Under-23 international against Italy. The match in Cremona resulted in a narrow 3-2 win for the Italians.
Stimson said: "Steve Avory managed the team for Italy and he rang me to ask if I would assist him. I was more than pleased to do that and the whole trip went very well. Obviously the result wasn't what we would have liked, but we were up against an Italian side who had some Second and Third Division standard professional players in there. It was a little bit more difficult than we are used to, but it was a great experience and everyone in the England set-up enjoyed it. Hopefully, there will be some more games like that in the future.
"It is a new kind of coaching for me. Obviously, you are playing against a different type of opposition and the pace and tempo of the game is totally transformed. But it is a change that I really enjoyed and I can only learn from the experience.
"If it is possible, I would like to continue to be involved on the England coaching staff. It is interesting to watch the players coming through at this level. In the Italian game, I was impressed by Wayne Purser of Barnet, who looks an excellent prospect. Also, Lee Johnson of Yeovil Town is very neat and tidy. John Kennedy of Canvey Island was the only non-Conference player in the squad and he did himself proud. There are others who will also do a great job for England in the future and maybe put themselves in the shop window for moves to bigger clubs."