How FA Vase and uncles inspired Levi Colwill's dream of returning to Wembley
England defender on how the 2014 FA Vase final made him dream of one day playing at Wembley Stadium and talks about the importance of his family
Over the last 48 years, the Isuzu FA Vase has inspired thousands of players to dream of one day playing at Wembley Stadium. But it’s hard to think of many who have then gone on to represent England at the famous old ground.
Levi Colwill is hoping to do just that in a month’s time after receiving his first senior England call-up, nine years after he first stepped foot on the hallowed turf as part of the 2014 FA Vase final.
The FA Vase gives clubs from levels nine to 11 of the English football league system the chance to work their way through the competition and play at one of the world’s most iconic venues.
In 2014, the final was contested between West Auckland Town and Sholing, a club close to Colwill’s heart because of family ties and a team the Chelsea defender still goes to support whenever he can.
That day, three of Colwill’s uncles – Barry and Bryan Mason and Marvin McLean – were in the Sholing starting XI and they invited the 11-year-old to be a mascot.
Colwill said: “I remember leaving Chelsea training early to drive to Wembley, getting changed into the kit and then waiting in the tunnel for them to walk past.
“I remember seeing how serious they all were and I felt the nerves all at once. Everyone was shouting before the game and walking out was just amazing.
“I watched the game with all my family and we were all so nervous in the stands. Once one of my uncles (McLean) scored, the celebrations… everyone was going crazy and it was one of the best feelings ever!”
He continued: “Being a little boy, I remember walking out and looking up, thinking ‘I have got to be here one day. I have got to play here. I can’t let my uncles play here and me not play here. So hopefully that happens one day.”
Colwill’s dream of playing at Wembley will have to wait for at least another month, with the Three Lions’ two qualifiers versus Ukraine and Scotland being away, before a home double-header against Australia and Italy in mid-October.
This isn’t the first time the talented centre-back has trained and travelled with the senior England team though, after being invited to June’s camp ahead of the Under-21s’ EURO campaign.
The 20-year-old would go on to excel as England won the Under-21 EURO without conceding a goal and he has impressed once more after becoming a regular at Chelsea under new manager Mauricio Pochettino.
One of the only negatives to Colwill’s impressive start to the season is he has been unable to make it to one of Sholing’s games so far this season.
With his uncles still playing at Southampton-based Sholing, Colwill had one eye on an away trip to Harrow Borough in the Southern League Premier South. Instead, it will be a flight to Poland and a EURO 2024 qualifier with Ukraine.
Growing up in the shadows of Southampton’s St Mary’s Stadium, Colwill’s journey to England started in the park with his dad before attending his first training session at City Central FC at the age of five.
Colwill ended up playing a year higher in his cousin’s team and by the age of eight or nine, was invited to trials at Chelsea and was successful, alongside good friend and fellow City Central player Jamal Musiala, who now plays for Bayern Munich and Germany.
Colwill’s family moved to London in a bid to reduce the long travel times but after a year, they were back in Southampton as being away from other family members proved too tough.
A left winger in his early years, Colwill developed into a talented left back and it wasn’t until the age of 15 that Chelsea coaches opted to switch him to centre-back.
Laid-back and composed both on the pitch and off it, it comes as a surprise to hear Colwill describe himself as erratic as a teenage footballer.
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But the ball-playing centre-back believes he has now found the right balance, with former England international Adam Lallana playing his part during the loan spell at Brighton & Hove Albion last season.
Colwill explained his laidback nature can at times be a weakness as well as a strength, which is why he appreciated Lallana pushing him and supporting him in training every day.
As well as Lallana, who is currently shadowing the Under-21s team, Colwill praised the impact fellow call-ups Lewis Dunk and Ben Chilwell have had on his development in recent times, as well as veteran Brazil international Tiago Silva, who he used to watch as a child.
Another player Colwill looks up to and tries to model his game on is England international John Stones, who is missing this camp through injury.
At just 20, Colwill knows there is still work to do if he is to reach his full potential and works hard away from the training ground to develop his game.
“I am hard on myself, definitely,” he revealed. “After games, if you have had a tough day, it will play on my head for the rest of the night. I am someone who must watch the game back as soon as possible, otherwise, I will be there trying to sleep and remembering things, which is not a nice feeling.
“That is why I push myself. Not many people can get to me with what they say so I have to get myself there. I think that works best for me.
“When I tell myself I have had a bad day at the office, then I feel like I have something to prove against myself and think ‘you are better than this’. That is why I have done so well so far.”
When asked if he takes work home with him, Colwill replied: “Yeah, 100 per cent, because football is my life, it is as simple as that.
“Being at home, I can’t switch off – well I haven’t learned how to switch off yet – so I am always trying to improve wherever I can.”
It will not come as a shock to hear the first person Colwill phoned after being called up for England was his dad.
“My dad started getting a bit emotional to be honest. It is a dream come true,” he said.
With games against Harrow Borough and AFC Stoneham on the same day, some of his family won’t be able to travel to Poland or Scotland should Colwill make his senior England debut. But one thing is for sure, their famous nephew will be back at Sholing very soon.
Colwill told England Football: “You know what it is, my uncles come and watch every game they can, no matter what and no matter where I am.
“They flew out to Georgia to watch the Under-21 EURO final and had to take days off work to come watch me. Every final I've played in, every game they can make, they will make it.
“To me, that means everything. When I know they're supporting me, it means the world to me. So any chance I get to go and support them, I will.
“I love being able to watch them and the team all love me. It's like a family.”
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