Sunday, July 11, 2021

BBC 10/7/21 Euro 2020: Kalvin Phillips' rise from Wortley to Wembley

By Tom Airey

First it was the Championship, then it was the Premier League's turn, now he's made a huge mark on the international stage.

Since Kalvin Phillips set up Raheem Sterling for England's opening goal of Euro 2020 against Croatia, fans across England and beyond have started to take notice.

Leeds United supporters have known about the 25-year-old's talent for years, but not quite as long as his first coach.

The holding midfielder played youth football for his local side Wortley for seven years, with Elland Road scouts soon taking notice and snapping him up for Leeds' academy, aged 14.

Paul Hatfield, who coached him at Wortley Juniors, based just three miles away from Elland Road, said: "We were playing a tournament up at Farnley Academy, one of the guys from Leeds spotted him and said, 'I like him, who's he?'

"I said 'That's Kalvin Phillips', and some of the passes he was doing on that day he's doing for England now. He covered all the pitch too."

Phillips, who joined Wortley when he was eight years old, left to continue his footballing education with Leeds - with many fellow junior players deciding to leave too, such was his influence.

"Kalvin did stand out, he'd never miss training, always trained hard, listened to us - if something went wrong, he'd get his shoulders up, got on with it and started playing again," Mr Hatfield continued.

"Win, lose or draw, he'd come off still smiling."

The player, nicknamed the 'Yorkshire Pirlo' - after Andrea Pirlo - in honour of his playmaking ability, will face the retired Italy great's home country on Sunday in England's first major men's final in 55 years.

Co-headteacher Karen Loney, one of many staff members at Whingate Primary School who remember Phillips as a pupil, said: "His mum recently posted a snippet of Kalvin's Year 6 report. In it, I use the phrase 'laid-back attitude' and you can still see that now.

"A happy, smiley, bright boy who did well across the board, worked hard and loved nothing more than chasing a football round at breaks and lunchtimes."

On the streets of Wortley, everyone has a story about Phillips - with some more tenuous than others.

At Cafe Blanco, owner Molly said: "Well, he came in and bought an omelette and some sandwiches, and my co-owner, she had a photograph with him.

"It's nice to know a local lad done good."

Over the railway tracks from his old primary school is 'Mushy Field', his usual spot for a kickabout as a child.

On a field that earned its nickname because of its proximity to a mushroom farm, Phillips mucked in and even found the time for a match with his mates after signing as a professional.

Several of Phillips' friends were in the crowd at Wembley to see him play in England's semi-final win against Denmark, including Micaiah Williams.

Mr Williams said: "That's why he stayed on for the full 120 minutes and still had energy until the last second.

"It's great to see just a normal, humble guy doing so well."

Adam Pope, Leeds United commentator, BBC Radio Leeds

Kalvin is not only a great footballer but a wonderful human being. I'll always remember his debut at Wolves in 2015 when he crunched one of the hosts' senior players, Kevin McDonald, with what has since become his trademark tackle.

That aggression and competitive nature betrays a laid-back and respectful approach to life, illuminated by a beaming smile.

He has always shown a self-awareness and politeness which has helped him cope not only with the demands and scrutiny of the national press, but also with the criticism that came from a section of the Leeds United support who were not convinced by his ability when he was in the Championship.

He says United head coach Marcelo Bielsa has had a huge influence on his career, but so have predecessors such as Neil Redfearn and others in the academy at Thorp Arch who gave him his chance.

He has proved the doubters wrong by combining hard work and considerable talent to become one of the bedrocks of England's success at Euro 2020.

His rise to the Premier League and to representing England has the city bursting with pride for a local lad who loved his late Granny Val and adores his amazing family. Nice guys can win.

The player's upbringing was not always an easy one, with his father serving time in prison and his mother working long hours.

Speaking to Ian Wright and Football Focus about his mother, Phillips said: "It was just at the weekends we've seen her as she was busy working.

"We used to get up for school about eight o'clock and she'd drop us off in a car that wouldn't quite work properly, we'd see her for half an hour in the mornings, we'd go to my grandma's after school until she'd finish work."

Phillips has also spoken about how close he was to his late grandmother Valerie Crosby, who died in February.

After England's win against Denmark, he joined the post-match celebrations wearing a shirt with 'Granny Val' on the back in tribute to her.

Mr Hatfield said: "He lives five minutes away from here, he's a Wortley lad and his granny said for him not to leave Leeds at all, so I can't see him leaving - but you never know."

His impact hasn't gone unnoticed back at his former school, with teacher Andy Rhodes, who taught Phillips in Year 5, noticing his skills influencing the next generation of midfielders in Leeds.

"There's now more children who like to hit 20 or 30-yard balls, the long pass has definitely been picked up on," he said.

"A 'Kalvin Phillips pass' involves hitting it very hard across the pitch."