John Stones all set for Barnsley return and Euro send-off

Wednesday 10 Jun 2015
John Stones in training with England squad-mate Harry Kane
Thursday evening sees John Stones make his first return to the Oakwell pitch where it all began for him.

The Barnsley-born England defender will run out in his hometown as the Three Lions face Belarus in their final warm-up game before next week’s Euro Under-21 Finals begin.

England v Belarus

A Vauxhall International
7.45pm, Thursday 11 June 2015
Oakwell, Barnsley FC
Live on BT Sport
Call 0871 2266777 for ticket details

And the Everton star is expecting to see plenty of familiar faces in the crowd, with ticket requests for friends and family being in particularly high demand.

"Yes, there’s been loads of them, we’re trying to get lots of people there as it’s on our doorstep, it's only 20 minutes from home," he explained.

"My mum and dad came to every home and away game, so for them to see me at Oakwell again will be special.

"They went all over - they still try to come to all of them with Everton. 

"Maybe Brighton was their furthest trip at Barnsley, so they have put some miles in."

Stones broke into the Barnsley team as a 17-year-old in 2012, where his performances in the Championship saw the scouts flocking to Oakwell.

The England Under-21s line-up to face Germany at the Riverside Stadium.

Stones was part of the U21s team which beat Germany in March

He was duly snapped up by Everton in January 2014 and has since become a Premier League regular at Goodison Park and been capped by Roy Hodgson at senior level.

But how much has he changed since he last ran out to play at Oakwell?

"It's tough to say really, I've matured so much on the pitch, but probably not off the pitch," he admitted.

"It's been a great learning experience and to say what I have done in a few years, I'm very proud of where I've come from and what I've done.

"To Everton, to the England squad - it all happened very fast and Thursday will be a great night for me to go back and hopefully play at Oakwell.

"I have good memories, they were great days. In the early stages of your career, the games you play make you who you are.

"The Championship was a tough league and it really toughened me up."

U21s head coach Southgate revealed this week that Stones reminds him of a young Rio Ferdinand, with the way he can bring the ball out of defence with composure and confidence.

Stones was naturally flattered by the comparison to the former England and Manchester United man, but is also wary of the fact that he’s still developing as a defender himself. 

"I used to watch Rio play and loved the way he came out with the ball," he revealed. 

"Speaking to the [senior] lads when we were just watching a game in the hotel, they used to say how good he was at doing that. 

"I'd love to create this image of me doing what Rio did but I also want to be known as a great defender who can keep clean sheets.

"It's got to be a mixture, as a defender you want to keep the ball out of the net first and foremost. 

"If it means doing it dirtily and ugly, that's what it has got to take. 

"I've always been taught to bring the ball out, play from the back and Roberto [Martinez] at Everton has taught me to do that and the gaffer here is 100 per cent behind me and how I want to play and bring it out. 

"That's the way the game is going. For me to keep progressing, on the ball tactically as well, I've got to keep doing that.

"I couldn't play dirty if I tried, it's not football. The game should be played to score goals and that's how you win a game, not by hurting anyone."

And with the way this U21 team have performed under Southgate over the campaign so far, he’s clearly not in a minority with those views on the game. 

Tickets for the game at Oakwell are priced at just £10 for adults and £5 for concessions. Call 0871 2266777 for more details.

By Nicholas Veevers At St. George's Park