Ben Godfrey admits he may have taken a different path to the international stage than most of his England MU21s team-mates, but he wouldn’t have it any other way.
The Norwich City defender is back in Aidy Boothroyd’s squad this month, after missing October’s games following hernia surgery, and he can’t wait to get back into the Three Lions shirt.
As the squad prepared for their away double-header against Albania and the Netherlands at St. George's Park, the 21 year old reflected on a journey which has seen him progress from a wide-eyed teenager playing for hometown team York City in League Two to captaining England and the Premier League with Norwich City.
And in comparison to many of his squad-mates in the MU21s squad, it’s been a varied progression but one which Godfrey believes has provided him with some unforgettable experiences.
“I’m so glad I did it the way I have, it’s been an amazing journey,” he explained.
“I wasn’t wrapped up in cotton wool, so it was a steep learning curve and I wouldn’t change my route at all.
“I didn’t have the academy upbringing that many did, but I also learnt things it would be impossible for them to do by getting the exposure to men’s football that I did at such a young age.
“You know that if you’re making mistakes, it can affect everyone in the dressing room so I saw how much it meant to the players and there’s one moment I can specifically remember.
“We were in a relegation battle and we were away at Accrington Stanley on the back of a poor run of results and were in a bit of a trouble.
“There was talk of players possibly taking pay cuts and things like that, so it was really important but at the time, I was just happy to be there.
“But after the game, and in the tiniest changing room as anyone who’s played at Accrington will know, a little bit of a fight erupted in there between two players.
“To me, at 16, it was an eye opener and that was when it clicked how important each and every point was.”
Godfrey’s performances for the Minstermen had started to catch the eye, and after a good start to the 2015-16 campaign he was snapped up by Norwich.
His arrival in Norfolk saw him initially link up with the club’s academy set-up, where he admits his early career experiences in the League didn’t really aid him on the training pitch.
“When I first went to Norwich, it was weird because in terms of experiences, I’d had much more than the other players at the time,” said Godfrey, whose father Alex played rugby league at professional level and is he someone he still leans on for “sound advice”.
“But in terms of technical ability, I was probably quite a bit behind because that wasn’t what we practised at the level I’d come from.
“So I was at a different stage mentally, and technically, to the other boys but I saw that I needed to work on my technical ability and catch up.
“But the other lads couldn’t go back and get that experience which I’d had at 16 and 17. They had to learn and experience all of those things that I did four years before them.”
Since then, Godfrey’s career has rocketed as a season on loan with Shrewsbury Town ended with two Wembley appearances and was followed by his elevation into Daniel Farke’s squad, as the Canaries stormed to promotion from the Championship last term.
While the current season in the top flight at Carrow Road has had its ups and downs so far, Godfrey is just making sure he takes everything in.
“It’s a really good experience, it feels like I’m learning on the job but it’s been an unbelievable experience so far, playing against some of the best players at the highest level,” he admits.
“It’s a good marker to where you are and every game is a test, but I’m enjoying every second of it and always learning and trying to have a smile on my face.
“It’s been a year I’ll never forget and hopefully there’ll be many more years to come.
“It’s been a real upward climb over the last few years so when it comes to suffering some bad results, mentally it can be hard and it changes the mood around the camp.
“But that’s something I’m learning about and seeing. It’s all exciting.”
One highlight for Godfrey this season came in September, when he was handed the captain’s armband for England’s game with Kosovo in Hull, a rare chance for his family and friends to see him in action given the geographical proximity to York.
“It couldn’t have worked out any better for me, when I told my family and friends they were all buzzing for me,” he revealed.
“Just to play in front of a home crowd, who turned up in numbers, it was great because my friends and family aren’t too far from Hull so I had half the stadium there!
“They couldn’t wait to get tickets and I have a lot of people who support me back home so it was just a great night.
“It’s hard to get back to see people at home as it’s a good three hours to drive back, so I don’t get home much.”
For now though, after making his England bow with the MU20s last season, he’s enjoying his time with the Young Lions as they target qualification for the 2021 EURO Finals.
“What a team we’ve got here,” he admitted.
“There’s some real ability in this squad, it’s the next step for me which I’m loving and the one after this is the senior team so that’s where we’re all looking to get to.”