This is Football will chronicle England players journeys from the grassroots game to England’s elite. From their earliest memories and experiences of grassroots football, to the coaches, teammates and volunteers who helped that shaped their careers, the new series will feature selected England internationals – across all national teams – with further episodes with John Stones and Reece and Lauren James coming soon.
In episode one, Manchester City and England forward Raheem Sterling speaks candidly about growing up in the shadow of Wembley Stadium and pays tribute to the man he says changed his life – youth worker and football coach, Clive Ellington.
Talking of Ellington’s influence in the film, Sterling says: “I was behaving naughty in school and a guy that was like my mentor in school, and mentor outside of school as well, he was just like ‘what do you like doing? We need to get you smiling, get you happy and whatnot’. And I was like ‘yeah, I enjoy playing football in the playground’. And funny enough he was a coach at a Sunday League team and he brought me down.
“Obviously, my dad died early. He [Ellington] was an actual good role model. He was within the community, he was the person that made me realise there is more to life than just being a naughty kid and having something that you love and put maximum effort in to.
“I said it was a new experience for me. I had never kicked a ball anywhere before properly, so to go there I remember I literally fell in love with football there, everything about it. It was something different man, you know, outside of my comfort zone.”
In the film Sterling discusses his pride for where he grew up and how it impacts him when he goes back to play at Wembley Stadium: “I’m from Wembley. Two jumpers on the green at the back of my house. That was like, that was actually our Wembley. Every time I go back to Wembley Stadium; FA Cup, whatever it is, it’s just like banter. Literally like to this day, I can’t even think it’s real.
“But at the same time when you get on the pitch it’s like I have a strong belief that I’m going to do well at Wembley Stadium no matter what, there’s no way, I’m at home, in my area, I’m not turning up.
“When you come to this place now it’s an unbelievable feeling but then you look back at them times and you think it was just everything. Every day was just football. That was all I done. Football, eat a burger, go home, laugh, come back, play football, megs someone, shoot and score a goal.
“That’s what I remember of football and like I swear I see youths now, like kids now and I’m just like so jealous of you lot. Like you don’t even understand how you lot have got it. Everyone looks at us and thinks we’re enjoying it, but that’s football.”
Ellington was the man who spotted Sterling’s talent and invited him to join local grassroots club Alpha & Omega FC. Ellington, who has been a coach at the club for 26 years, says of Sterling in the film:
“What drew me to Raheem and made me want to work a lot with him was his potential. Not just as a player, but there was something more behind those eyes that when you looked at him, that there was an urge and a need to become someone. He just didn’t recognise how good of a player he was.
“I’ve always said to him, the only way you can pay me back is by being a good person, just be a good man, that’s it and he’s doing that today.
“I’ve been running Alpha now for 26 years. It’s not just about football when it comes to our club. It’s bigger than that. It’s seeing boys grow in to men. It’s our family.”
Sterling was interviewed for the film by his former England Under-21 teammate, Marvin Sordell, who since retiring from the game in 2018 co-founded Oneighty Productions who are producing the series on behalf of England Football.
Commenting on the series and the first episode, Sordell says: “Having played with Raheem, I know the type of man he is. Being able to portray him in this positive and relatable way means a lot to me, but I’m sure more so to children across the country that dream of following in his footsteps. Being able to truly and authentically connect these superstars with their communities via their journeys, was our exact intention when we set out to create these films.”
This is Football has been commissioned to support the launch of England Football which aims to create more chances for people to play, coach and support football and better connect the grassroots game with England’s National Teams.
Full length episodes of the new series will feature exclusively on EnglandFootball.com – the new digital home of English football.