Darlington (January – April 2012)
It was my first taste of first-team football when I went out to Darlington, in the National League at the age of 17. They were struggling and I was asked if I wanted to go there and help them out. My coach thought I was getting beyond the U18s football I was playing with Sunderland and I played nearly 20 games for them and it was quality. I really enjoyed it, it was a great experience for me, despite the team getting battered every week during what was a difficult time for the club.
- Born: Washington, 7 March 1994
- Club: Everton
- England caps: U16, U17, U18, U19, U20, U21, Senior
- Twitter: @JPickford1
- Instagram: @JPickford1
Alfreton Town (February – April 2013)
I wanted to try and find a League club at the time, but that didn’t come about and I went out to another club in the National League. It was just a case of playing games for them and I kept a few clean sheets there as well. It was another great experience and a case of going in at the deep end and taking my chance. The Alfreton gaffer at the time was Nicky Law, who is now head of recruitment at Burnley, and he had signed a few younger lads on loan there. I remember Aden Flint, who is now doing well at Bristol City [just signed for Middlesbrough], was there just before me too. That loan helped me get my next move, as Nicky recommended me and put in a good word to Gary Rowett at Burton Albion. It was an eye-opener for me and the big thing was that you had lads there who were were working part-time and playing football for their livelihood. They’re playing to help pay for mortgages and I was just an apprentice there to learn, so you’ve got to do your best and it was all an unbelievable experience.
Burton Albion (August – November 2013)
I started off well there and had a good little run, but when Keiren Westwood got injured at Sunderland, I was called back to go and sit on the bench. That was my first taste of being the back-up keeper at Sunderland, so in the space of two years, I’d done everything. But when Gus Poyet brought in a new keeper, I could go back out on loan to Burton again. I’ve always said that my hardest loan spell was at Burton, moving away from home and friends and family for the first time. Whenever I spoke to my coach at the time, Mark Prudhoe, we always said that was the hardest one.
Carlisle United (February – May 2014)
When I went to Carlisle, it was a step up in standard from Burton and I thought it was going to be tougher, but then I felt that was easier than League Two, which is interesting. It was another big change though as I was travelling in every day to training which was an hour and a half to drive, but it was another great experience and I played every game until the end of the season for them.
Bradford City (July 2014 – March 2015)
It was back in League One again, but for a club who were targeting promotion and there was a real onus and pressure on the team to try and win week in and week out. That was a new experience compared to the previous spells that I’d had and I’ve always said that each of my loans was a real learning curve. At Bradford, it meant playing at a big stadium with larger crowds and the chairman and manager there were great for me and I put in some good performances as well. When I had to go back in March, it was as cover again so I had to sit on the bench for three months at Sunderland. At first, you don’t mind, but then you just want to show what you can do so I think the loans were making me a better keeper.
Preston North End (August 2015 – January 2016)
It was a big step-up for me at Preston, and I really enjoyed my time there. I think I kept 13 or 14 clean sheets in 20-odd Championship games and I was putting in consistent performances every week so that was the big one for me. I’ve said it before, but it was all about crossing bridges to become Sunderland’s number one and my time at Preston took me another step towards that, as I eventually went back and made my debut for Sunderland in the January.
Sunderland (2011 – 2017)
I’d been with the club since I was eight and been a Sunderland fan my whole life, so it was just a dream to play for the club. That’s all I wanted to do, growing up. I made my debut away to Arsenal in the FA Cup and I made my Premier League debut away to Spurs, but I just wanted to make my home debut really. That was the big one, walking out at the Stadium of Light and that came against Everton the following season. It didn’t end up well though, as we got beat 3-0. I only played 30-odd games for Sunderland in the end, because I had a couple of injuries and some time on the bench but it was one of the best things I’ve done. You only get one chance in life to do things and every chance you get, you have to take it and I just wanted to grab that chance with both hands and do my best. I would have loved to play more, but I got my chance and thankfully I took it.
Everton (2017 - )
I made the move last summer and when I first got to Everton, it was a bit like Sunderland as a club as everyone made me welcome. It’s a family club and all of the staff are so friendly which made me feel comfortable straightway and took the pressure off. I just like to work hard on the training pitch and play the games, I don’t think about anything else like the speculation or price tags, as that’s when it can grab you. I’m really enjoying it though. We had a bad start to the season and weren’t where we wanted to be but the new gaffer came in and steadied the ship. We’ve been a bit up and down, but we’re not far off. Our home form was really good, but we just couldn't seem to grasp our away form. We’re not that far away from being where we want to be in the top six or seven.
Playing for England has been so important for me and an incredible experience. I’ve played in every age group, from U16s and making my debut in the Victory Shield on Sky Sports so all my mates could watch, to playing in a World Cup and two Euro Championships with the U17s and U21s.
All of those games have helped me prepare for now. All of those times when you’re away from home for weeks at a time, you learn things and it’s about enjoying it as well. Hopefully, all of that will put us in good stead for the World Cup this summer.
It’s been character building too. I remember in the U17 World Cup in Mexico in 2011, I conceded a goal against Canada from the opposing goalkeeper’s free-kick. I was devastated at the time and when you’re young, you always want to win. But I realise now that the main thing is learning and you never stop learning. When you’re that age, you’re learning about life as well and becoming a better person, so all of those little experiences and mistakes have made me a better player and person now.
My senior England debut against Germany at Wembley in November was good, I felt like I was ready for it and I didn’t put any pressure on myself, I just enjoyed the experience really and that’s the best way to take these games. I thought I was consistent throughout the game and wasn’t phased by anything, so I was pleased with it.
This interview is taken from the official match programme for England's game with Italy in March. Order a copy of any of England's recent programmes for more features like this.