From homeless shelter and non-league football to starring at EURO 2020
Tyrone Mings discusses his grassroots story, where he went from ‘humble beginnings’ and playing football for Yate Town and Chippenham Town to becoming an England international and Aston Villa captain
Tyrone Mings is not your average footballer.
The defender acknowledges he comes from ‘humble’ beginnings, having spent a year of his childhood in a homeless shelter and after being released by Southampton at 15, spent time as a mortgage advisor and pulling pints in a pub.
Mings was playing for Yate Town and Chippenham Town in non-League football before he was given his big break by Ipswich Town in December 2012.
But he has not looked back since and has gone on to become Aston Villa captain and a key member of the England squad.
Here Mings discusses his journey and how it helped make him become the man he is today.
My earliest football memory was probably playing for FC Chippenham, my grassroots club who I joined when I was four. It was a couple of miles from my house, the field where we trained, and we didn’t have a car at the time so my mum would carry me down, or certainly carry me back if I was too tired after training!
That was my first memory and then with grassroots clubs come the summer tournaments and things like that, which I used to love; messing about with your mates, the pitches were small, games were thick and fast, having a few burgers in-between and a couple of cans of Coke – there was no nutrition back then was there?!”
When you are a kid you just play anywhere don’t you? We used to play in a little park next to my house, playing first one to hit the lamppost and things like that. You get creative with the games you play as a kid, trying to hit the ‘No ball games’ sign outside my nan’s house. Stuff like that. We would play anywhere in the street, and that was probably my favourite time to play, playing in the street until it got dark.
Coady, Mings, Stark & Alorka | Lions Den Ep. 32
Josh Denzel is joined by Chris Stark and Dave Alorka for a chat with England defenders Conor Coady and Tyrone Mings
I was four when I started playing for a club and their youngest team was U6s so the guy was a bit reluctant to let me join in at the start because you should be at least five really and my mum was like ‘can’t you just let him join in?’ By the end of the session when my mum picked me up, he was like ‘yeah he can stay’.
I got scouted by Southampton when I was seven and started playing in their academy when I was eight as a centre midfielder. I was a normal height back then. I remember between six and seven up until about 13 I was one of the biggest. But then at 13 or 14 everyone else started developing into teenagers and young adults and I didn’t really develop physically until I was about 17 or 18, which was ridiculously late when I look back at who we would play against in the academies.
I kind of got left behind a little bit when I was 14, 15, 16 and that was when I got released, whilst playing as a left back, and it was probably a blessing.
Growing up I was an attacking centre midfielder because I wanted to score goals like everyone else. The centre backs in those days were usually someone who came over from the rugby team. I played centre mid, attacking mid, left wing and then when I started getting older, I went to left back. I only really started playing centre back when I came back from my knee injury at Bournemouth, so I have only really played there fully for three years now.
I went to Millfield School and from 16 to 18 we played three at a back, so I was the left side of the back three and then when I played non-League football I was an out-and-out left back because I was nowhere near big enough or strong enough to play centre back at non-League at 18 or 19. So when I broke into professional football I was very much a left back.
My time in a homeless shelter
I often get asked about spending time in a homeless shelter growing up. I was about 7 or 8 but what we didn’t have in money at the time we certainly made up for with love and support as a family. We had quite a close-knit family set up with my mum and three sisters that I grew up with. So I never felt deprived or anything, or like I was starting off from a worse place than anyone else, because we had quite a tight family unit.
I wouldn’t have traded that for anything else looking back now. I started from humble beginnings but I’m also conscious that there are a lot of people who start from a lot worse situations as well.
It probably taught me the gratitude of having a close support group of friends and family that you can lean on when things aren’t going well because you can make the best of a bad situation.
I think football was always a release for me and an escape from reality. When I was playing football I was at my happiest. Anything that happens away from that, it never impacted my football luckily enough for me. I was always able to get to training, whether it was a lift through a friend, public transport or we used any means necessary to get to training. So it never affected my ability to train.
Football was always a vehicle for me that I thought could get me out of that situation and give me a new life and set me on a different journey to the one I was on and the cards I was dealt.
If you can stick with it, try to enjoy it for as long as possible and you never know where it will take you.
The setbacks growing up and arriving into the game late definitely helped me. There is one thing being a good player but I think most people should pride themselves on being a good person and being as well rounded as possible.
Whether that is as a brother, a family member, a son, a friend, a teammate or now for me as a captain; all the experiences I have been through have added a few per cent to me as a person. I don’t mean that in any disrespectful way to anyone who came through the academy system but I wouldn’t change my journey for anything because I think I have such a well-rounded view of what life outside of football looks like and the experiences you have to go through when you don’t play football, be it good or bad.
Take something like making an appointment with a GP. As a footballer, it is so easy to see a club doctor and get things sorted and you never have to worry about going to a doctor or writing a CV – not many players who are in this England set-up will probably have to do it but a lot of players in the game will have to do that. So it is things like that.
They are all things that I have been through, things I have learned, and I have met different types of people outside of football - I wouldn’t have been able to do that had I came through the academy system.
I think it has all added to me as a person and has given me a really nice, balanced view on life.
So for any player who has either not been picked up by a professional club yet or has been released in their teens like I was, if you are serious about your football, stick with it because you never know what is around the corner.
The good thing about the world we live in is you have so much information available to you. When I was in non-League, going back ten years now, the internet wasn’t as advanced, whereas now you are afforded the information that a Premier League player would have in terms of recovery, nutrition, training routines, where to get help, and you can utilise all those things.
Scouting is also more advanced now so you never know who is watching – I mean I got picked up playing for Chippenham. You never know who is watching, you never know what opportunity will come around the corner and I would say just make sure you are ready for when that opportunity does present itself. You can’t control whether a club signs you or not but you can control whether you are ready for the opportunity when it comes around.