Published 27 July 2021 4 min read
From cage to Wembley
Jadon Sancho’s grassroots footballing journey has been different to many of his England teammates, but the Manchester United man explains how it’s helped shape the player he is today...
I know I’ve taken a different route to where I am now from most of the other players, but it’s what helped make me.
My first football memory comes from growing up on my council estate in Kennington, south London, and just seeing the older boys kicking the ball around, playing cage football.
I’d watch from the side and try to practise or copy what I’d seen until when I was old enough to kick a ball, I joined them and that's how it all started.
I was probably about seven when I first went in and joined the older boys… they'd seen that I could actually play football so they let me join in.
It gets competitive when the older lot are playing, so that was when I made my first impression and I used to love it.
It was literally just me, freestyling really because back then it was all about impressing the older players. We'd use the term gas'd, so when you used to gas to them, they'd scream and start recording and it'd make you feel good as one of the younger lads.
Especially when you'd rip one of the older lads, like a nutmeg or something, that was like my motivation to keep on going.
I never had a club or anything like that, it was just cage football at the start and at weekends there might've been a tournament at a local park.
Usually, I'd turn up and sometimes if a player hadn't shown up for a team then I'd just fill in for that team.
I just used to have fun, being free and having no rules. There'd be me and my boys from one estate and we'd play like the boys from another estate and there'd be a rivalry.
The main rivalries came at the Southwark Youth Games, when all the boroughs from around London would link up to play each other. I think I played in it twice and we won one year and lost the next.
On the same team as me was Reiss Nelson, so when we played together for England a few years later, that was crazy.
There’s been a lot of players from south London in the last few years who have gone on to play at a high level and I can’t say what the reason is.
But everyone just loves football…I remember on the lunchbreak at school, it would just be everyone against everyone and you’d go out and play for a full hour of lunch.
There's a lot of people who play street football, but it's the progression as you get older and more rules come into play, I wouldn't say it becomes less fun, but it becomes more strict which might affect people.
But ever since I made that switch and went to playing games for an academy at Watford, where it's nothing like cage football, I still just loved scoring goals and playing all the time.
So my advice to the younger generation growing up in south London now, the same as I was, is just to enjoy your football as much as you can while you're young.
Make the most of it when you're at a stage like cage football or in those tournaments, keep pushing yourself and you never know what will come.