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Published 04 March 2024 6 min read
England Men's Senior Team

My journey: Aaron Ramsdale on bouncing back from rejection to become an England international

Written by:

Aaron Ramsdale

England and Arsenal goalkeeper Aaron Ramsdale discusses his grassroots story and how he went from playing for Marsh Town in Newcastle-under-Lyme to become an international footballer

(Ramsdale was speaking in June 2023)

Sometimes the heartbreak of rejection can become a blessing in disguise when you are a footballer.

My first memories of football as a kid were playing with my older brother, using our garage door as a goal, and watching Match of the Day and the EFL highlights.

The first real taste of competitive football came at Wood Lane Primary School when I was in year three. I played in a mini six-a-side football tournament and after that, I said to my dad I wanted to play for a team.

I started as an outfield player for Hartfields Juniors in my age group and it was for the older age group that I played as a goalkeeper. Two months later that team branched off to create Marsh Town and I stayed with them for a couple more years.

The 2006 World Cup was a huge tournament for me as it was around the time I started getting into football. I obviously remember watching England but Gianluigi Buffon was the main thing I took away from that tournament, where he had the gold short-sleeve goalie shirt with a little bit of white. Other than a West Brom or an England kit, that was my first shirt, where I didn’t support the team.

West Brom was my team growing up and I still look out for them now, although it becomes more difficult when you start playing against them.

West Brom was passed down through my dad and his family, which was fortunate because we didn't live too far away so now and then we would pop over to see them at the Hawthorns or when they played Stoke.

My first real memory of West Brom was probably ‘The Great Escape’ in the 2004-05 season where they stayed up on the last day. That really got me hooked and I supported them until I came into the professional game.

I loved Dean Kiely growing up and it was him and Scott Carson that I really remember when I first started getting into football. Then when I was around the academy and scholarship ages, I would watch Ben Foster and he was the main one I looked up to.

I am from Newcastle-under-Lyme, near Stoke-on-Trent, so all my mates supported Stoke City or Port Vale, so I was the odd one out.

We were quite fortunate because we had loads of little recreation grounds nearby where we could play games like knockout, British bulldog or manhunt.

The pub we used to go to was close to the Red Street Community Centre so we would play there and then as we got older, we would play closer to our school at places like Bignall End and Audley. 

They would usually have goalposts or might just be a big field but by the age of 13 or 14, we would be floating around where we could play football and we would stay there all day, every day.

We had a good team at Sir Thomas Boughey High School because along with me, who was playing at Bolton Wanderers at the time, and a mate who was at Crewe, all the other players were playing for the same two teams, Chesterton or Audley.

We won a load of cups over the years and in Year 11 we reached the semi-finals of the National Schools Cup, playing at Everton’s training ground Finch Farm, and reached the final of the Sentinel Shield and the County Cup.

Around 70 per cent of those lads are still playing together for Audley or The Crown, which is the pub they all go to.

Looking back I have benefitted from some great coaching over the years.

Apart from my family, Keith Griffiths was the one who started it off because he was my manager at Hartfields and Marsh Town and when I said I wanted I wanted to take goalkeeping a bit more seriously, he introduced me to Fred Barber goalkeeper school.

I would go to Fred’s goalkeeping school twice a week, which he would run alongside being first team goalkeeper coach down at Bolton Wanderers. So when I impressed him, he showed me to the academy coaches at Bolton and I managed to get in.

I then had two very good goalkeeper coaches at Bolton in Sam Meek and Neil Edwards, who were incredible for me.

I was just turning 11 when I joined Bolton Wanderers and was released when I turned 15, so for five seasons I would train three times a week and then play in matches – I loved it.

But being released by Bolton for being too small was heart-breaking because I had spent four-and-a-half years going up and down the motorway thinking everything was rosy and then I had to go back into school with everyone knowing what had happened.

The worst thing was when you then went on trial to other clubs and you kept getting rejected for the same reason.

But the first rejection at Bolton probably gave me the backbone to carry on and then after that, every other rejection was even more fuel to prove people wrong.

I think I ended up with six to seven face-to-face rejections after trials and you had a lot of other nos from clubs without them seeing you but they were great experiences and I still meet a lot of people from those clubs. Like I say, it was just more fuel.

I was a small kid so at the time maybe some of the clubs were right but you have to look at the bigger picture. When I left Bolton Under-16s I was 5ft 10 and then six months later I was 6ft 1.

After being released, I went back to grassroots football and played at Audley with my school mates, because Marsh Town had finished by then. So for two or three months if I didn’t have a trial, I would go back and have fun with my mates.

It was funny because you went from playing against the likes of Everton, Liverpool and United one week to being back playing Sunday league football with your friends. Some people never manage to get over that rejection. Some do. Thankfully I was someone who did.

After joining Sheffield United, it was then Jamie Annerson and Darren Ward who built me back up again.

I had the fundamentals in place but they homed in on things and gave me a little bit of magic dust to make me better, and I got to the point where I was signing professionally for Sheffield United.

In the long run, the rejections benefitted me and were a blessing in disguise. It meant I know what it feels like and I know how close you can be to being out of it and you are never really in a comfort zone.

When you are in an academy for so long and you go through everything, you can be in a comfort zone and think everything's rosy and something can happen and you're not prepared for it.

Yeah, something happened to me when I was 15 but now if something happens when I'm 25, I've got a wealth of experience to deal with it, so it was definitely the best thing that happened to me.

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