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Published 27 February 2024 5 min read
Ollie Watkins

My journey: Ollie Watkins on how he went from Newton Town to playing for England

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Ollie Watkins

England and Aston Villa striker discusses his rise from grassroots football to becoming an international footballer

My footballing journey properly started with a friend coming over to my house.

I was always good at football as a young kid but I didn’t have a team or anything like that. Then when I was about seven or eight, my friend came over to my house and he was going to training that evening and just said, ‘oh, why don't you come?’

So I went along and I ended up joining that team, Newton Town, because I really liked it – it was probably one of the best things I have ever done.

The team was local to where I grew up in Newton Abbot in Devon and I then got scouted by Exeter City maybe only a year later, so it all kicked on quite quickly.

I didn’t get through initially though. Because I was so used to playing with my friends and it not being too serious, when I went on trial, I found I was as good as all the other players but I just couldn't really concentrate in the right way.

They said for me to come back in six weeks but my parents were kind of saying they didn’t know if I would still not be able to concentrate correctly in six weeks’ time.

15 Nov 2023 11:13

Kane, Grealish & Watkins battle for the Ultimate EA FC England team

Who had the best team?

They were keen for me to just give it a bit of time, go back to playing football with my friends whilst I was young and then I went back maybe two and a half years later.

So I didn’t end up joining Exeter City until towards the end of under-11s, going into under-12s, and by that point I was full of confidence.

I used to love tricks and stuff so I can remember my first training session back like it was no other. I kept flicking it over people's heads and things like that and the head of development said he wanted to sign me that day, but he just had to wait for the new coach to come in.

So from then on, I would play for my club team on a Saturday and would play on the Sunday for Exeter. I think I would have been about 14 or 15 until it started to get a bit more serious.

I was always fully focused on becoming a footballer though. I remember when I left Decoy Primary School to join South Dartmoor, I didn't know anything about the school but chose it purely because it had an astroturf pitch and I knew I would be able to train on it regularly!

I also played for Devon FA and there were a lot of good players who played for them – although I think me and Sam Gallagher were the only two who went on to play at the top level.

Ollie Watkins scoring against Australia in 2023
Ollie Watkins scoring against Australia in 2023

Playing grassroots football, there was still pressure because we wanted to win of course but it is not a business. So regardless of whether you won or lost, it didn’t really matter – unless it was for winning the league and you wanted that little trophy of course.

Then as you got older, you realised playing for a professional club that it is a business and people have bills to pay and there can be a lot riding on it, so there can be a lot to take into consideration.

I benefitted from coming through at a smaller club like Exeter City I believe, rather than one of the bigger category one academies. I think if I had joined a category one academy while I was younger, it probably would have gone to my head so I am so glad I had the journey I did.

To go from grassroots football to becoming an England international, it has been a bit of a journey but it has been a great journey. I have had some tough times on the way but also so many good ones.

About three-and-a-half years before my first England call-up, the England strength and conditioning coach came to Brentford for the day and I was asking him, ‘what is Harry Kane’s routine like? What does he do?’ I just wanted to take those small percentages of improvement where I can. Then a few years later and I am at England training alongside him.

My advice to young kids would be to enjoy football whilst you're young, work really hard and then you can be anything you want to be.

Never stop believing. As cliché as it sounds, you need to believe in yourself but also you are never actually as far away from your dreams as you think.

There were times when I was sat in the stands at York City away and playing in reserve games, but it only takes an injury and then you are in the squad. Then if you take your chance, find your feet, you can become a regular. I took my chance, I played well and I ended up moving to Brentford and it went on from there.

So you have to keep believing in yourself and keep working hard.

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