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Published 03 November 2022 6 min read
England Men's Senior Team

England's John Stones relives his own grassroots football journey

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John Stones

The Three Lions and Manchester City defender takes us back to his development days in Barnsley


Playing football for the first time, I remember just starting with my dad.

He would take me to the local park and it was just playing with my parents and having fun. I remember my dad saying that there was training with a local team on a Wednesday night, so I started to go there and still enjoyed it, made some new friends and I just loved to play football from there on.

I was probably five or six then, just a little kid going to play football, with my local team Penistone Church.

Funnily enough, I was a goalscorer when I was younger. We used to play local teams and there were a lot of rivalries from a young kids’ perspective that I used to love playing in.

They got quite tasty at times and I remember playing up a few age groups which I think helped me out, playing with the older lads.

I got scouted for Barnsley’s academy while I was still playing Sunday league and I never played for any other club at that time. I could’ve gone to Leeds as apparently they wanted to sign me, but I just wanted to stay at Barnsley with my friends. I was there until I was 18 and loved every minute of it.
03 Nov 2022 3:46

This is Football: John Stones

Find out more about where John's football journey began

But there were tough times, I remember when I was 14 or 15 maybe, I was dropped down an age group for a year or two which was a blow at the time but I just wasn’t physically ready for it.

So that was a difficult time for me personally and it was hard to take, I had to go with one team on the Saturday and then drop down to play for another on the Sunday. But I just kept working at it, playing and trying to enjoy it.

I even thought I was going to get released at one stage, as I was really small as a kid. All of a sudden, I came back after one summer like I’d slept in a growth bag.

That would always be my advice to kids who are smaller, just be patient as it can take time to mature and let your body grow, so it’s difficult. I had to take it on the chin and work hard and it definitely made me a stronger person, recovering from that setback.

At school, football was a big thing too, as you wanted to be part of the school team and I remember going for the try-outs to get in the football team.

In the end, I could only play a certain number of matches for school because of my involvement with Barnsley, so that was frustrating because at that age you just want to play football all the time.
Stones in action for the England MU21s team in 2014
Stones in action for the England MU21s team in 2014
I had to manage it with my coaches, as Barnsley didn’t want me to get injured playing with my school team but I just wanted to play football.

I had so many influences around me in those younger days and I don’t want to say names in case I miss anyone out, but they all know who they are.

I was lucky to have some great coaches and it was a good journey because they were always about and a vital part of my journey and success and have helped to make me the player that I am today.

And it still doesn’t seem that long ago when I broke into Barnsley’s first team squad at 16. It was strange training with the first team at that age and then making my debut at 17.

I was a starter for half a season after that, playing in the Championship, when I first got called up by England for a MU19s game in Germany under the head coach Noel Blake at the time.
The Barnsley-born defender has now been a regular in the England men's senior squad since 2015
The Barnsley-born defender has now been a regular in the England men's senior squad since 2015
It was strange to walk into that dressing room at the time, as I was the new boy on the international scene and from Barnsley whereas a lot of the other lads had all been playing together previously in the younger age groups and were at Premier League academies.

There were some great players from big clubs at the time, I remember Raz being in there at the time, and for anyone from Barnsley to get in an England squad was a big thing.

I remember playing that game in Germany, and even though we lost, I felt I’d done well and things escalated from there and I was picked again.

I had some great people behind me at the time, it was a nice process to go through.

I’d like to think that belief or self-belief that someone has done it from where I’m from, is really rare and I’d love to be able to inspire young kids from Barnsley and make them dream they can do the same thing.

It doesn’t matter where you come from or your background, there’s always a chance. It hasn’t been a seamless journey. Like anything, if you really want something, it’s never easy to get.

There’s always going to be those moments in your career that probably people don’t realise have happened, but you’ve got to go through those things to experience them and come out the other side in a better way and mindset.