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Published 07 November 2022 7 min read
England Men's Senior Team

Declan Rice: 'My journey was different'

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Declan Rice

The England and West Ham midfielder reflects on how family and school football helped him reach his goal


My first memories of football are with my mum and dad.

There’s pictures of me at home in the garden with snow and rain coming down, wearing a nappy and pelting the ball as soon as I could walk at two years old.

I just always had a ball to hand or foot, whether it was a tennis ball, a basketball or a football, I was always picking it up and smashing it, so I think my parents knew from that point what I wanted to do.

I’ve got to thank my dad though, because he was helping me all the time by taking me down to the local park to chuck the ball for me or kicking it to me from five yards away.

I’m the youngest of three brothers, Connor and Jordan were both quite a bit older than me, so growing up I was always wanting to play with them and their groups of friends.

When I was six or seven, I’d be going to play with them at five-a-side and I remember dribbling around all their mates who couldn’t believe it, for a young kid to be doing that to them.
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So I think they thought I was destined to do something in football, but obviously it’s a tough road to get to where I am now and you’ve got to work hard.

But if I hadn’t had those times with my brothers or my dad in the park, who knows what might've happened and if I’d be where I am today.

Unlike most of the other players and lads that I speak to in the game, I never actually played in organised football as a youngster, so my journey was a bit different in that way.

My brothers had both played for local teams and Jordan was a good player himself, but he had a bad injury and kind of fell out of love with the game and Connor was also good but lost his enthusiasm for it.

My dad had seen that happen - kids playing in matches with parents shouting from the sidelines and he just didn’t want me to go into it.

He wanted me to be a kid and to just enjoy playing on the street or with my friends and with my brothers’ mates. So even though I was nine by this stage, I was still improving all the time and toughening myself up.
Declan strikes a ball during a training session with the Three Lions squad
Declan strikes a ball during a training session with the Three Lions squad
My cousin was already at Chelsea’s academy and he tried to get me a trial, but they said that I needed to play for a team so they could see me, which was obviously tricky when you don't have one.

But I eventually managed to get invited to a pre-trial which I did well in and then that led to a full trial. I managed to perform that day and I suppose the rest is history - the next thing I was signing for Chelsea’s academy and that’s where I really started to learn and develop more.

We also had a youth club nearby which was really good for me, I used to be there every day when I wasn’t training, and I could practice what I’d been told to work on by Chelsea.

So it was little things like left-foot, right-foot, general technical ability and dribbling. You were coached straight away in all of those specifics at the academy.

If I wasn’t a part of that at a young age and then what I went on to learn at West Ham when I moved over there, I wouldn’t be where I am now.

It’s such a big thing, the coaching was drilled into you so you’d always be working on things whether you were in the park with your mates or at school.
Rice has become a regular in the England men's senior team since his debut in 2019
Rice has become a regular in the England men's senior team since his debut in 2019
I used to love school football too, it was incredible. When I was at Grey Court School in Ham, we had one of the best teams in the country at the time.

I remember when I first went there in year seven, no one believed that I played for Chelsea’s academy.

So when the school trials came around, people were wondering why I wasn't there and it wasn't until I played a game for them a little later that they believed that I did.

I used to love it so much, I'd try and get the teacher, Mr Willmore, to change the times of the kick off so I could play!

The games would be on a Tuesday at 4.30, but that time meant I wouldn't be able to make the Chelsea training later that night, so I'd ask to make sure we could start at 3.30 instead. Obviously that was popular with the other lads as well...

I remember I used to play the game for school before my mum would come to pick me up, bring my Chelsea training kit and a bowl of pasta in a little tub, which I'd then eat on the way over to the training session with Chelsea.
The West Ham United man grew up in Surrey and represented Chelsea's academy as a youngster
The West Ham United man grew up in Surrey and represented Chelsea's academy as a youngster
I still speak to our teacher Steve to this day and we're really good friends. He loved it and always tried to get the best out of his teams so I loved school football too.

I remember when we got to the final of the Surrey County Cup Final, big games against the likes of Whitgift School from Croydon, and they had a few Palace and Chelsea boys, but we had a really good team.

One of my really good friends in that team had a Chelsea trial too, which came after that final. He was the best player on the pitch that day, but nothing came of the trial, which shows you just how hard it is to make that breakthrough.

It was a special time and I used to love it, that was what I wanted to do. When you're a kid and full of energy, all you want to do is go out and kick the ball.

So that's why I'll always be thankful to everyone who has helped me along the way over the years to help me achieve my dreams now.