I was brought up in Southport, Lancashire and sport played an important part in my life from an early age. At Churchtown Primary school I enjoyed football and played in the school team at an early age.
As I joined Birkdale High School I spent even more time on the football pitch and cricket fields whilst also playing a bit of tennis. Birkdale has also produced players such as Clint Hill (Stoke City) and Ian Armstrong (Port Vale).
As a child I suppose I was unusual in that I didn’t follow a particular club,
I had my favourite players – Gazza, John Barnes, Paul Ince, and Tony Adams.
I was playing as both a striker and in central midfield.
Gazza and Paul Ince – two of my childhood heroes (the
guy on the left isn’t a bad player either).
I also began playing for Birkdale Boys and at the age of eleven was spotted
by some Everton scouts, to be honest I didn’t even know I’d been watched. They
approached my dad; Mick and asked him if I’d be interested in a trial. Mike
Walker was the manager at the time and I went along for the trial just a few
games before the end of the season. I trained with the club about three or four
times and they told all the boys that they’d be writing to us. I wasn’t too
confidence, although when the letter did drop through the letter-box, it was
fantastic news - they wanted me.
I made progress at Everton, and as a result was selected for the national school of excellence at Lilleshall. Although the set-up at Lillesall has had it’s fair share of critics, I’m not one of them. I spent two years there, from the age of fourteen to sixteen and had an excellent time both professionally and socially.
During the early days the success rate may not have been particularly high, but as with all new initiatives, there were obviously going to be lessons to be learnt. I still maintain that it’s a very sound idea – bringing the nations best young players together and developing them further, good players learn from each other and I don’t think there’s a better way of developing a players game. I think there’s still room for a Lilleshall type operation.
I’ve worked with a few coaches in my time and I can say that the quality of the coaches at Lilleshall was excellent - Keith Blunt a big influence, a disciplinarian, who kept our feet on floor and he knew the game inside out, whilst Chris Daly, another coach, was fantastic with the younger kids. At the same, John McMahon (Steve’s brother) was coaching at Everton and also had a great deal of influence with me during my early years at the club.
Stuart Parnaby, under 21 room mate in action against
Involvement in the England set-up has been fantastic. One of the early highlights
of my career was playing in the Under 16 European Championships. We spent three
weeks in the Czech Republic and reached the quarter-finals – losing out to the
hosts when beaten under the ‘golden goal’ ruling. I’ve also been lucky enough
to have played in some great grounds and performed to crowds of 70,000. I’ve
also had the privilege of working alongside top class young players and progressed
through the ranks with lads such as Stuart Parnaby and Jermaine Defoe, and Joe
As my time at Lilleshall came to an end, and at the age of sixteen I signed
a three-year scholarship contract with Everton. I played for the Everton Youth
team in during my first season made one or two reserve appearances. However
I broke my wrist in the pre-season the following year, and only managed to play
some six or seven times for the second team that year.
Next Part: Life as a Pro