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Published 11 November 2022 7 min read
England Men's Senior Team

Callum Wilson takes us on his journey from Coventry junior leagues to Qatar

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Callum Wilson

The England and Newcastle United striker takes us back to where his love of football began, as a youngster in Coventry.
The first memories I have of football are playing on a local common in Radford, in Coventry. I must have been five or six at the time.

We used to play on there and there was a guy called Jimmy, I remember him so clearly, he was a big chap with a moustache and he used to come once a week at a certain time and set up the goals with nets.

For me, that was so exciting, just to have proper nets so you didn’t have to chase the ball back every time you scored. It was like what you'd see on the television.

He’d set it up for the older lads really, but he’d let us on before and after and I think he just did it to get us off the streets.

As a younger lad, it was all my uncles who were actually playing so I always tried to get involved and when you’re playing with the older guys, you get a few little skills passed on but you get pushed off the ball because they’re all bigger than you.

So he just said come and train with the kids your own age, I did that and soon got my first pair of football boots, some Puma Kings. From there, I never looked back and just fell in love with it.

That was a vital part of me getting into football and an opportunity to play on grass, but I'd still be practising all the time. I remember when I was about seven or eight, I used to play ‘wombats’ which was kicking against a garage in the closed area of my estate - just little things which I think all helped me.
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I started thinking that I wanted to get involved in football more often and after going to the regular training sessions which were set up by Jimmy, I found I was quite good in my own age group.

He said he had a local side I could go to, a team called ‘Christ The King’ and I joined in my age group there.

Once I started playing, the Coventry City academy approached me at different points throughout that time. I went in and tried it, then came back out. It wasn't for football reasons, but mainly because my mum couldn’t drive, so for me to get across the city to training was quite hard.

So I just decided to stay playing with the team, with my mates, training after school and just really enjoying football.

By this stage, playing Sunday League, I was scoring loads of goals. I’d started playing in central midfield so I could go and get the ball from the back and take it forward and score.

When I was a striker, it was hard for the lads to get the ball to me, so I was that guy who would be able to take it, dribble and score. It was frustrating, but I was happy because I was scoring and I wanted to be a footballer when I grew up so I had that passion.

Coventry kept tabs on me though and I heard back from them again when I was 14 asking me to try again. It came at a good time too, as when you get to that age, you’re going to be leaving school soon and I’d start to worry.
Callum Wilson began his professional career with hometown club Coventry City
Callum Wilson began his professional career with hometown club Coventry City
I wasn’t the best at school, so when I joined the Coventry academy for the second time, I had a day release for one day a week from school and that’s when I knew it was what I wanted to do.

Teachers would always say to me to make sure I was still doing my homework and studying, just in case I needed something to fall back on if football doesn’t work, but fortunately it’s panned out well for me.

It wasn't that smooth from there though. After my scholarship, I went out on loan to Kettering when I was 18 and I played a few games which was my first introduction into men’s football really and it was a good experience.

I’d go to training and see people from the real world who played football, but were also doing things like decorating jobs, so it was a good learning curve from that point of view.
Wilson during his first England appearance at any level with the MU21s against France in Brest
Wilson during his first England appearance at any level with the MU21s against France in Brest

I was played on the right wing, because I was quick and perhaps not strong enough to go up against the centre-backs in that league, but it was an early eye-opener for me

From there, I went back to Coventry aiming to get in their team but I got injured and when I was fit again, I went out on loan to Tamworth.

And going out on loan to a non-League club for a second time really made think that while this is what I need for my career, I didn't want to be doing it at this level.

It was a humbling experience, and without looking down at those teams who helped me, it just made me want to do better for myself and my family.

So when I went back to Coventry, I was 20 and was given a new one-year contract extension and they said I basically had one year to play and do well.

Wilson's goalscoring form with Newcastle United earned him a place in the England squad for the 2022 World Cup
Wilson's goalscoring form with Newcastle United earned him a place in the England squad for the 2022 World Cup
My first son was due to be born at the same time, and I remember going in there on my own to ask for more money, because I was going to have a child and I’d been on loan with players in non-League who were on more than what they were offering me.

I was trying to weigh up my options, whether to leave Coventry or stay for the year and try to break into the team. It was a real dilemma for me at the time.

I had a good friend, who’s now my agent, and he said to me that I’d be better off at Coventry on lower money than being at Tamworth on more money, so to just bide my time, work hard and see what happens - you’re in the Football League and once they see what you’re capable of, then the money will come. You can’t chase the money, and that’s what has stuck with me ever since really.

So it’s not been an easy ride to here, it’s had its ups and downs and that's without going into the injuries.

But nothing in life is easy and I’m just enjoying the roller coaster at the minute.