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Published 28 May 2021 4 min read
Grassroots Football

Knowing John Stones...

Written by:

Nicholas Veevers

Having worked with the England defender since his early days with the Young Lions through to the senior set up, Nicholas Veevers recalls seeing John Stones' growth into the player he is today

I can still remember the first time I met John Stones, almost nine years ago, back in September 2012.
At the time, I was covering the England MU19s team and I recall getting the squad list through from then head coach Noel Blake for an early-season friendly game against Germany.
Among the list was a new name, featuring for the first time in an England squad, in an 18-year-old John Stones of Barnsley FC. 
He’d already made a handful of first-team appearances for the Tykes in the Championship at the time, which was something most of his new international squad mates were yet to experience but this would be his first time away with the national team.
Alongside him in that group were the likes of Raheem Sterling, Jordan Pickford, Eric Dier, James Ward-Prowse and Nathaniel Chalobah, who’d all previously represented the Young Lions at younger age groups.
And when John reported to the camp, he made an instant impression on the staff with his down-to-earth nature and approachability. 
It was clear he was thrilled to be involved on the international scene and after just a few days of training before the squad headed over to Hamburg for the game, it was clear that Blake and his coaches were also impressed.
Generally speaking, it was rare that a new face in a squad would go straight into the team on their first call-up, but Stones was named in the starting line-up for the game.
It took place at the home of VfB Lubeck, in front of almost 5000 fans, and despite a 3-1 defeat with Crewe’s Nick Powell scoring England’s first-half goal, the scoreline didn’t really reflect the game.
And for Stones, he’d been one of the stand-out players and drew special praise from Blake after the game and remained a key player for the MU19s that season.
13 Jun 2013 1:46

Stones' first World Cup

John Stones speaks ahead of his first major international tournament - the FIFA U20 World Cup in 2013

A few moments in particular stood out for me - I can still recall speaking to him after a 3-1 win over Denmark at Doncaster’s Keepmoat Stadium when he couldn’t hide his pride at having played for England in his native South Yorkshire in front of friends and family. 

And also hearing him talk about preparing for his first major international tournament at the U20 World Cup in Turkey in 2013.
By then, he’d left his hometown club to join Everton and was already on the verge of their first-team having made a similar impression on Toffees boss David Moyes.
But he remained grounded throughout that time, he was good company on trips and always willing to help in a professional sense, whether that was speaking for our match programmes or to local media outlets to help publicise those development games.
He continued to progress on the pitch too, as he went on to be among the standout performers for Peter Taylor’s team at the U20 World Cup and also became a Premier League regular.
John Stones in action for England MU21s in 2014
John Stones in action for England MU21s in 2014
The following year, he’d realised his dream when he earned his first senior cap against Peru in the build-up to the 2014 World Cup, for which he was named on the standby list.
That ascent didn’t stop him featuring at the U21 EURO Finals in Czech Republic in 2015, having played a big role in helping Gareth Southgate’s squad to qualify.
Since then, no-one needs reminding of his achievements with three Premier League titles, an Emirates FA Cup and two EFL Cup medals in his collection.
And now, watching his contribution to our ‘This is Football’ series, it just reminded me of that bright-eyed and eager young man from Barnsley in his new England tracksuit boarding that plane to Germany in 2012.