Published 21 June 2021 4 min read
Where it all began
Kalvin Phillips' grassroots coach shares early memories of the England and Leeds United midfielder
Kalvin Phillips captivated the nation when he played in Raheem Sterling to score England’s winner against Croatia at EURO 2020 but his grassroots coach remembers seeing him do it "1000 times before".
Born and raised in Leeds, Phillips was just seven when was introduced to Wortley FC coach Ian Thackray and thrown into the club's U8s set-up.
If anything, Phillips was a little behind the other players when he joined, according to his former coach, but his progress was swift as he soon began to rise through the ranks at the West Yorkshire club.
Now 63 and a Leeds United fan since he was five, Thackray was ecstatic when Phillips joined the academy of his beloved club in 2010 and ultimately signed a professional contract four years later.
Since then, the 25 year old midfielder has gone on to make more than 200 appearances for Leeds, winning the Championship in 2020 and attracting the eye of England manager Gareth Southgate along the way.
But the player Thackray now sees covering the Wembley grass isn’t too different from the polite young boy that once wore the white of Wortley.
“He was always really quiet, a bit like he is now because he’s not a noisy guy but he was almost a season behind when he joined us,” said Thackray, who is now club secretary having been with Wortley for the last 27 years.
“It’s different when you go from kicking a ball in a park to playing at a club but it got to the point where we moved him up a team and from thereafter, he just got better and better.
“He had enough ability to lose his marker in the middle of the field and once he got away from them, he knew how to move his body so they couldn’t get it back off him.
“That little move he did before he passed the ball to Raheem Sterling, I’ve seen him do exactly that 1000 times before.”
Under the watchful eye of current Leeds boss Marcelo Bielsa, Phillips has been moulded into a deep-lying midfielder with an excellent passing range but that wasn’t always the case.
During his first international outing at a major tournament, he produced a man of the match performance that reminded Thackray of the performances Phillips would produce back in his Wortley days.
No doubt Phillips has picked up some important football lessons along the way but it seems as though the ones that have stayed ingrained in him, were learned at Wortley all those years ago.
“He was always a central midfield player too, always sort of played number ten behind the striker but you couldn’t ask him to stay up the field, that was pointless,” said Thackray.
“He wanted to be the one heading it off the goal line and then scoring at the other end - very similar to how he plays now.
“Eventually the teams around us got to know him and he’d get a few kicks. But that was alright for us because if somebody upset him early doors, we knew we were winning the game - it would spur him on.
“He’s a player that can do everything and if he wants to tackle you, he’ll tackle you. It was his tackling that got him noticed by the Leeds scout. The tackle was perfect, then he dragged it back with his other foot and passed it 55 yards to the other side of the pitch.
“He was never a sprinter but if you turned up two days after the game, he’d still be there running up and down the pitch. A lot of people think Bielsa made him but he’s always been like that.”