Published 04 August 2021 4 min read
England Men's Senior Team
Jack's Devon days
England's Jack Grealish recalls his early grassroots memories including summer tournaments in Devon, finding fun through football and his biggest influences
I used to live and breathe football when I was a kid.
I first started to play when I’d join in with my brother's team and he was older than me, so he was U6s and I would've been four so I'd play up with them.
That was with my first grassroots team and they're still going now, Highgate United. I just remember the kit was always red and I have happy memories being there and from my childhood, which was brilliant really.
But I think the one thing I still remember most from playing football growing up, was this one tournament that I went to with Highgate United.
It was down in Devon and a tournament that we used to enter every summer, and I remember there were about 16 teams involved in my age group.
Funnily enough, there were two teams from our area who entered it one year along with teams from all over the country.
And it was mad because in our group was the other team from our area and we drew 0-0 with them in the group stage,
But then after the group games both of us went through to the knockouts and we actually ended up playing them again in the Final.
It was a big game for us because it was local, but we ended up winning 4-1 and I scored all four - I remember scoring two volleys and two free-kicks.
After the game, I remember Harry Redknapp came down to give out the trophies and the Queen song 'We are the Champions' was being played - it was an unbelievable feeling and it just sticks out for me as one of my first football memories really.
I always knew I was good though. From playing when I was like four or five, I'd be running past players. I used to just have great fun even once I’d been scouted for Villa when I was six or seven.
I’ve never said this before, I probably can now, but when I was at Villa, I'd still play for my old team with my friends.
On my summer breaks, I'd still go on the tournaments to Devon with them because I just loved the whole thing – playing games every day with your mates against other teams.
The whole family would go along and it was like a little holiday, and if I ever got scouted there my dad would say my name was ‘Jack Greaves’, because if they knew it was Jack Grealish, they'd ask why an academy player was playing...
So I'd go and play in these tournaments with my old Sunday League team and then I'd go back and play for the academy.
I'd play for my school and also used to play a bit of Gaelic football, but Villa eventually wanted me to stop playing in case of injury.
I just used to have as much fun as I could though and even if I lost a game or something, I’d be down for the evening but the next morning I’d want to go back out again to play and try to improve.
It was still all about the enjoyment, and even being involved at Villa, I probably didn’t really think about being a footballer until I was maybe 12 or 13.
I was lucky because there was never any pressure on me from my parents and my dad was always supportive of me. No matter if I'd had a bad game or not, he was always there.
He knew how much I loved football and he'd always support me so even if I didn't want to go down the route of being a footballer, he'd have been there for me so both him and my mum have been the greatest influences on where I am now.
Coming through the ranks at Villa, I also had a good coach called Ben Petty who’s someone that I still speak to now and actually lives pretty close to me.
He's now working at Leicester with their U23s, but when he was coaching me at Villa he went from the U9s age group and was promoted along with us four or five times right through to the U18s. He just got me and really helped me develop.
But I think every kid is different and every coach is different. Some kids like a kick up the backside, some like an arm around the shoulder.
I’ve always found that If I get on with a manager or coach and can speak to them, then I play my best football.
I've had been fortunate enough that with Dean Smith, Steve Bruce and Tim Sherwood at Villa, I’ve played my best football under them and they're the three I've got on with.
But whenever young people ask me about football, I always make sure my advice is to just enjoy it and have fun and I’ll never change that.