Published 10 November 2021 10 min read
Emile Smith-Rowe

Emile Smith Rowe left 'speechless' after call from Gareth Southgate

Written by:

Frank Smith

Emile Smith Rowe discusses his first senior England call-up, the special moment he found out and what was said on his call with Gareth Southgate

The smile says it all.

For the first four or five minutes of the interview, it doesn’t leave Emile Smith Rowe’s face. Not for one second.

“It’s a bit surreal to be honest,” Smith Rowe said. “It’s crazy just being around the place and with all the players. I am so happy to be here and I am just going to enjoy it as much as I can.”

St. George’s Park is a place Smith Rowe knows well. After all, this is someone who has played for the Three Lions at every youth age group and was a member of the victorious side who lifted the FIFA Under-17 World Cup in 2017.

But this time it is different. This is one of the big career goals ticked off already, at the age of just 21.

“This is probably the biggest achievement I have had in my career so far,” Smith Rowe tells EnglandFootball.com.

“It is just different. Coming to St. George’s, being on a different training pitch…it is crazy. I am a bit speechless to be honest. I don’t know what to say about it all yet because it still hasn’t really sunk in yet that I am actually here.”

One of the benefits of St. George’s Park is that the youth teams share the same facilities as the senior side so Smith Rowe has crossed paths with his new manager on several occasions, with Gareth Southgate regularly asking the forward how life was going at Arsenal.

But Sunday’s phone call was extra special. 

Emile Smith Rowe has been playing in the same side as Bukayo Saka since they were 16 years old
Emile Smith Rowe has been playing in the same side as Bukayo Saka since they were 16 years old

Smith Rowe explained: “Gareth called me and said ‘congratulations, you have been called up to the first team.’ I didn’t know what to do. I was starstruck at the time. I was stuttering, I didn’t know what to say. I just said ‘O wow, thank you so much.’ 

“I ran downstairs to my mum and told her and she couldn’t believe it. She thought I was joking. It was very emotional but she was very proud of me.

“After that I called my dad straight away to tell him the news and he was buzzing for me as well.

“I am really close with my dad too and I like to be a family person. I am always with them.”

Smith Rowe, who had initially been called up by the England under-21 team, continued: “I think it was extra special that I was at home. It wouldn’t have been the same if I had been away with the under-21s already. It was even better because I was at home.”

He has spoken publicly about his gratitude to his parents, who relocated so the youngster could be closer to Arsenal’s academy training ground when he was 12.

Smith Rowe was born in Croydon and initially grew up in Thornton Heath, with his footballing education starting at Tooting & Mitcham, Glebe FC and then Junior Elite FC.

His talent attracted the interest of Chelsea whilst seven or eight years old but after three or four weeks on trial, the Blues decided against signing the skinny youngster, who by his own admission, struggled with the physicality of the Blues’ training and wasn’t getting on the ball enough to show his talent.

But within a month, Arsenal had shown an interest and after a few years of the long commute to training, Smith Rowe’s family decided to relocate to Hertfordshire to be closer to the Gunners’ Hale End base.

The Archbishop Lanfranc Academy in Mitcham was swapped for Chancellor’s School in Potters Bar at the end of year 7. South London for Hertfordshire. And Smith Rowe flourished.

‘Really good experiences’ on loan at RB Leipzig and Huddersfield Town helped Smith Rowe grow even further but the 21-year-old insists he would have laughed at anyone who suggested he would be in the senior England squad within 16 months of his spell in the Championship coming to an end.

But Smith Rowe has been integral to Arsenal’s improved form under Mikel Arteta since the south Londoner was made a first team regular 11 months ago.

Given the famed No.10 shirt at Arsenal, the creative forward’s performances had led to calls for him to receive a first senior England call-up in recent months.

However, Smith Rowe insists he wasn’t disappointed to initially miss out on making the senior squad last week because ‘I wasn’t expecting it’. It did seem likely to be only be a matter of time though when last week Southgate mentioned Smith Rowe and his under-21 team-mates Conor Gallagher and Marc Guehi as being three players who were performing particularly well at the moment.

“I didn’t initially see what he had said about me [in the press conference] but then someone sent it to me and it is always great when the gaffer is mentioning you in the press conferences and stuff like that,” Smith Rowe said. 

“It gives you a special feeling and it gives you that extra motivation to keep working hard.

“I am here now and I just want to prove to everyone that I deserve to stay here.”

One thing about this England squad is Smith Rowe will not be short of familiar faces. He has played alongside Bukayo Saka since the pair were around 16, his club-mate Aaron Ramsdale is also part of the November camp and Phil Foden was among the incredibly talented squad who lifted the Under-17 World Cup alongside Smith Rowe in 2017.

But even without the above trio, this England squad prides itself on its togetherness and Smith Rowe said he has been made to feel at home since the second he arrived at St. George’s Park on Monday.

He said: “It is such a welcoming environment. Even when I first came yesterday, everyone gets on so well together. No one is ever by themselves walking around or not talking to anyone. It is really good.

“Coming in, I had never been here before with this team so it makes it easier knowing everyone is going to talk to me and everyone is going to welcome me. It has been great so far.”

Smith Rowe will be hoping to continue his meteoric rise when England continue their FIFA World Cup qualifying campaign on Friday night against Albania. Tickets for the game at Wembley Stadium connected by EE are sold out but you can watch the game live on ITV, with the broadcast starting at 7pm and kick-off at 7.45pm.