As a central figure in England’s defence, Gary Cahill helped the Three Lions reach the World Cup as we conceded just four goals in qualifying.
He’s now played 21 times for his country and has his sights set on next summer's showpiece, but he’s come a long way from where it all started...
"When I first played football it was for my school and a team called Dronfield Town in Derbyshire. I played a year above because a lot of my friends were in that side. I really enjoyed my football, and at that age that's what it's all about.
"I went to a few clubs for trials and ended up signing for Aston Villa when I was about 13 years old. I wasn't always a defender. I was playing centre-midfield. It wasn't until I was 15 that they moved me to centre-back and I started playing there regularly.
"I had some good managers and coaches in the early days. You always remember your first Sunday League manager and at Dronfield there was a guy called Dave Herbert who was great. His son played centre-forward for us at the time and we were a good side. When I started playing for Villa there were people like Gordan Cowans, Tony McAndrew, Kevin McDonald. Those three in particular had a lot of success bring young players through who are still playing regularly.
"I remember when I first got a chance with the first team at Villa. It usually happens when they are short of numbers in training. I felt I was doing well in the reserves so making that step up was great. It's something that you want to tell your family about straight away. It still puts a smile on my face when I see the young lads coming in to train with us now, as I know what it was like. It's a big achievement.
"Someone who gave me one of my first opportunities was Steve Cotterill. He took me on loan to Burnley from Aston Villa reserves for six months. I hadn't played one first-team game until then, but he put me straight into the side for a League Cup game against Tottenham. That showed a lot of belief in me. So there I was, making my first team debut against Jermain Defoe and Robbie Keane. It was a real welcome to professional football! For Steve to play me consistently through the six months really kicked off my career.
"My first England call-up came for the U18s, which was obviously a massive honour. It's not something I expected, though. You just go in and work hard each day to play well for your club. A letter through to the academy director, Brian Jones, and he let me know I was selected for England. I was absolutely buzzing. It's the same feeling, even now. Getting called up for your country is a real privilege.
"I’ll never forget my debut at Under-21s level as it has gone down in history. It was the first game at the new Wembley back in 2007 when we played Italy and drew 3-3. It was a really enjoyable game, a lot of goals, and it was great to be a part of.
"A few months later I was in the squad for the European Championship Finals in Holland. I played in the first game alongside Nedum Onuoha when we drew 0-0 with Czech Republic. We reached the semi-finals so it meant we were away for a couple of weeks with the national team and gaining international experience all the time. Just being around the set-up was good for me as it is similar to how things are run in the seniors now, so it really prepares you for making that step.
"When I finally made my senior debut it was amazing. I had been in squads before and travelled to a lot of games, so I was champing at the bit and was ready to play. When you first come you are really happy to get that call-up, you'll do whatever just to be there. But after few meet-ups and training sessions with the lads, you're itching to get a game. Unfortunately for Michael Dawson, he got injured in the home game against Bulgaria in 2010 with the score 1-0, so I got the nod. We ended up winning 4-0 and Jermain got a hat-trick, so it was a very proud moment for me.
"I scored my first goal against Bulgaria in the away game a year later. I took the ball on my chest, the keeper came out and I slid and put it past him. At the time I thought I heard a whistle and I was offside, that's why my celebration was so reserved. Scoring for your country is something you always dream about, I just hope I can get a few more.
"Playing for England is a feeling I'm blessed to have had. I'm sure the other lads would say the same. Yes, it's a massive achievement and you're proud, but the actual buzz you get inside is something different. It's what you've worked hard and dedicated yourself for all these years to achieve. When you pull on that shirt and go out and hear the national anthem, it's what it's all about."
This interview with Gary Cahill comes from the England v Poland match programme in October. To subscribe to future programmes, click here, or you can download the digital version direct to your ipad or iphone via the Apple Newsstand, here.