Ivan Toney's grassroots story: From Eastfield to England
My first memory of grassroots football would be playing for Soccerstars about the age of nine at my local team in Upton, near Sixfields, which was about two minutes away from Northampton Town’s ground.
They were some of the best days of my life. Early on, it is just about you just enjoying your football and those times. You are playing with your friends and from there, you don’t really see the bigger picture of where you could end up. From there to sitting here now, at St George’s Park with an England training kit on, I can see those grassroots days played a massive part in that happening and it is something that I wouldn’t change.
I look back and remember those cold, windy, raining days at Soccerstars, getting muddy - it was so enjoyable.
Before that, I had just played with friends locally. I would play out the front of my Mum’s house in Eastfield with my cousin Nathan Hicks, who played for Leicester City. He is five years older than me so the players I was playing with at the time were near enough double my age. I wasn’t really taking football seriously at that point before joining my grassroots team but playing with the older kids massively helped my development.
I played grassroots football from the age of nine until I was about 13 and then I joined Leicester City. I was there for a year or two but I didn’t get a scholarship so I went to Northampton when I was 15.
It seemed as though I wasn’t going to get a scholarship at Northampton as well. On the last day, everyone had found out they had a scholarship and I was waiting to find out but I didn’t receive the call. Everyone was in the chat saying ‘did you call the call?’ and I was like ‘I guess I’m not getting the scholarship’. Then the next morning when everyone was meeting up, the manager called me and said ‘you have your scholarship. Come with the rest of the boys’. So they didn’t tell me I wasn’t going to get a scholarship but it was clear to see because everyone else found out the day before.
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That was an important moment for me as I was thinking ‘right, I need to kick on now’. It was a shock to the system. Having been dropped from Leicester already, you don’t want to then be dropped from another team. So it was like ‘fix-up now, this is your chance’. I then went on to play for the first team and got a move to the Premier League at the age of 18, before then dropping back down the leagues again.
There was not really a time where I didn’t think I would be a footballer though. I just kept playing and kept enjoying the game. I wasn’t really thinking about what could happen or the negatives. I was just thinking about the positives and how you could end up here or there if you keep playing well. I wasn’t looking behind me, I was just looking forward.
I also played for my school team at Weston Favell and I would play all different positions growing up. I started out playing right back, then went to centre back, moved to centre midfield and then when I went to Leicester, I was on the right wing and then moved to centre midfielder before going up front. I floated all around the pitch. I liked scoring goals and the feeling it would get you though so I slowly moved my way forward where I would have more chances to score goals.
To be here now, in the England camp, I am so grateful for the sacrifices that my Mum, my Dad and my sister have made, and everyone around me. With my sister, she was at university and she would take me to football and then do her university work in the car while she waited to take me home while my Mum and Dad were working. So she has played a part [in me being here].
My Mum played a massive part. She would be making dinners and sometimes she would be making sure I was eating and not herself. And also my dad played a massive part by taking me all over the country, whether it was trials here or there and coming to every game - my sister would also come to support me all of the time.
Everyone played a part so it is a bit sweeter when I am sitting here now in an England top representing the country. It is not just me who has done this, it is everyone around me who has played a massive part and I can’t thank them enough.
And to think it all started with grassroots football. When I look back to the summer tournaments and grassroots football as a whole, it was just enjoyment. You would have all of your friends coming together and everyone’s parents would get together and it was a good feeling. They were enjoyable days and I look at my grassroots days as a really good thing and I wouldn’t have changed it.
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