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Published 09 October 2023 7 min read
England Men's Senior Team

My journey: Fikayo Tomori's grassroots story

Written by:

Fikayo Tomori

Defender Fikayo Tomori discusses his journey from playing on the streets of London and grassroots football with Riverview United to becoming an England international

Growing up, football was just fun.

When I think back to those earliest football memories, growing up in the Woolwich and Thamesmead area of London, my mum’s friends had sons who were my age – literally just months apart – and they used to take us to the Waterfront Leisure Centre in Woolwich where we used to play indoor futsal and I would score loads of goals!

We then moved to Gravesend in Kent and I remember them telling my Mum ‘make sure he keeps playing football because he is good’ and stuff like that.

I signed up for a Sunday team with people from my school, Riverview United, when I was about six or seven years old, and it wasn’t long before Chelsea came calling, so I would be training with Chelsea on Saturdays and then playing for Riverview United on Sundays.

I played for my grassroots team for about a year and a half and although people would be saying to me ‘you’re going to be joining the Chelsea academy’, I didn’t really understand what it meant – I just thought I was going to play somewhere different!

At the time, you are young and just playing football because you enjoy it, and it was just fun.

I would also play football with my friends growing up with some of the older boys in the area. In the summer we would ride our bikes around and use four bikes to make two goals. We would play street football for hours and hours!

I played as a striker as a kid and I idolised Thierry Henry. I remember persuading my mom to buy me gloves just like his and would pull my socks all the way up to emulate him. Whenever I scored, I'd imitate the celebration he had done the previous Saturday. Ronaldinho was another favourite of mine but Thierry Henry was my footballing idol.

My dad and my uncles all supported Arsenal and I think it was because I’m from a Nigerian family as a lot of Nigerians supported Arsenal because of Kanu playing for them.

When I signed properly to play for Chelsea, I was eight or nine and I had to stop playing for Riverview, which was weird for me because we would play on a Sunday and then at school on a Monday, we would talk about the game, so it meant I would miss out on that kind of stuff.

When I got to Gravesend Grammar School, I was more of a rugby school and they didn’t have a football team. Because I was athletic, they would ask me to play for the school rugby team but I didn’t really want to take it up – I didn’t mind playing it in PE though.

They got a school football team when I was in year 11, but by then, I was more focused on Chelsea.

Whilst I played for Chelsea from the age of eight or nine all the way through to becoming a professional, internationally, I did make a change as I represented Canada at under-19 and under-20 level before I joined England at under-19 level.

I remember playing against England for Canada under-20s, where we played against Marcus Rashford and a few of my Chelsea team-mates, like Kasey Palmer, Ola Aina and Charlie Colkett.

Marcus Rashford and Fikayo Tomori playing against each other at Under-20 level in 2016
Marcus Rashford and Fikayo Tomori playing against each other at Under-20 level in 2016

I hadn’t been called up by England previously so when Canada asked me to play for them, I thought ‘yeah, why not’. Then after a Youth League game, former England youth team coach Aidy Boothroyd was there and England asked if I could go with them to play in Mexico.

It was difficult at the time because I had made some great relationships with people in the Canada team so it was a bit like ‘what should I do?’. But growing up in England, I always wanted to play for England, especially as I would see my mates from Chelsea going away with England teams. So, I spoke to my Mum, my family and friends and made the decision to switch.

Growing up, I had a few really important coaches. Joe Edwards (currently England’s interim Elite League Squad coach) was my coach when I first joined Chelsea so all the way through the academy he was always there.

Also, Aidy Viveash, who is assistant manager at Coventry City, was my coach with Chelsea Under-21s. He is a tough coach but he definitely made me better. He was a defender himself and he really instilled discipline in us and taught us how to play football the right way.

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There have been a lot - Hassan Sulaiman, Cyril Davis and loads of other coaches – who have helped me along the way and gave me different pointers during my time at Chelsea.

Going all the way back to the under-9s, we would spend a third of the season in defence, a third in midfield and then obviously everyone wanted to be a striker at that age! Looking back, you learn from things like that.

Then at under-13s, I think we did a whole year of just technical sessions, where it was about how you receive the ball, how to pass the ball, where to pass the ball and things like that.

So you pick up lots of different things at different age groups before you get to the under-16s where it then becomes more about how you are trying to win the league.

The defender made his England senior team debut in November 2019
The defender made his England senior team debut in November 2019

My overriding memory of playing football growing up was fun. It was just fun.

Obviously, now we have the pressures of having to pick up three points every game and you have social media and everything like that, so you can kind of get caught up in it. But when you're young, after football you would just get in your parents’ car and go back to school without worrying about it. It was just about having fun.

When I’m away with England with some of the other boys I played with at Chelsea, sometimes we talk about the times when we were winning Premier League tournaments, or we would go on tour.

I was literally just playing with my friends and it's more about having banter with your friends, where you are trying to nutmeg each other and stuff like that.

Growing up, football was just so much fun.

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