As the England squad continue their World Cup campaign the players lucky enough to be chosen by Fabio Capello continue to carry the sometimes unrealistic expectations of an entire country.
And three key players in Capello’s squad hail from the borough’s along the East London Lines –
Ashley Cole, Shaun Wright-Phillips and Ledley King, now forced out by injury until the latter stages of the tournament, have all risen from humble beginnings to the heights of sporting superstardom.
They are among eight of the 23 players who have honed their skills in the parks, streets and playing fields of London and gone onto be among the superstars of the Premiership. But when it comes to representing England, club allegiances are abandoned. Chelsea’s John Terry, Frank Lampard, Joe Cole, and Ashley Cole play alongside Tottenham rivals Ledley King, Aaron Lennon, Jermaine Defoe and Peter Crouch.
So, how did Cole, King and Wright-Phillips travel from the streets of south and east London to the stadiums of the 2010 World Cup?
Number 3, Ashley Cole
Cole, better known lately for his activities off the pitch rather than his fancy footwork, was born in Stepney, Tower Hamlets. Growing up with his mother Sue and younger brother Matthew, he attended Bow Boys School, where he must have dazzled PE teachers with his defending skills. At 13, he joined the Arsenal Youth Academy, signing to the club he had supported since childhood.
The Academy honed Cole’s natural talents, and he progressed through their youth and reserve teams. At the age of 19 he was loaned south of the river to local club Crystal Palace to gain match experience, returning to Arsenal to make his Premier League team debut in 2000.
He soon developed a reputation as a brilliant left back, one not afraid to create an attack and helped Arsenal win the Premier league twice and FA Cup three times.
But in 2006, he fell out of love with Arsenal when they refused to accede to his wage demands and signed with Chelsea, winning three more FA Cups and three Premier League titles with them. Despite his fluctuating public popularity, he is still regarded as one of the best left backs in the world.
This is his third World Cup, debuting in a 2001 qualifier against Estonia, having previously played for England Under 21’s. He has been England’s first choice left back, in all three competitions and one of the stars of the 2006 finals.
Number 17, Shaun Wright-Phillips
Shaun Wright-Phillips, 28, though born in Greenwich, grew up in Brockley and attended Haberdashers’ Aske’s Hatcham College in New Cross.
As the adoptive son of famous footballer and South East London legend Ian Wright (who was born in Woolwich and started his career at Crystal Palace before becoming an Arsenal star), his father ensured that he was kept grounded, growing up in the same area where Wright developed his own skills.
With brothers Bradley a footballer for Plymouth Argyle, and Brett having been part of Reading’s reserve team, Lewisham has a football dynasty of which to be proud.
Wright-Phillips began his youth career at Nottingham Forest at the age of 12 but has played the majority of his career at his current club, Manchester City apart from a brief but unhappy spell at Chelsea, where he was crowded out of the first team.
Having played for England under 21’s, he made his international senior team debut in 2004, but missed out on a place in the 2006 World Cup team.
He will make his World Cup debut in South Africa, having made Capello’s final team over Theo Walcott, another speedy winger. In doing this he has achieved more than his father, who was unlucky enough to miss out on playing in the tournament, due to England’s failure to qualify in 1994, and injury in 1998.
Another famous alumni of Haberdashers’ Askes’s along with Wright- Phillips, is Scott Parker, the Lambeth born West Ham midfielders who narrowly missed out on being in Capello’s final 23.
Number 20, King
For Ledley King, currently the longest serving player at Tottenham, it all began in Bow where he attended local school Blessed John Roche RC and played for Tower Hamlets team Senrab Youth FC, a club that also produced his fellow England team mates John Terry and Jermaine Defoe.
Based in Langdon Park, Senrab is a breeding ground for professional footballers. Previous players, and Londoners, Lee bowyer, Sol Campbell, Bobby Zamora, Paul Koncheskey and Jlloyd Samuel all started here
King’s younger brother Emerson currently plays with the club, along with Jlloyd Samuel’s brother Jamal, and Sol Campbell’s nephew Reuben. All of them hoping to emulate their family’s success no doubt.
King, now 29, graduated to Tottenham’s youth academy, the club he has now played at for over a decade and has been captain of since 2005, although his first team appearances are famously limited due to a chronic knee injury that makes him unable to play matches in quick succession.
He has played for England at every junior level and debuted for the senior team in 2002. Missing out on the 2006 World Cup due to injury, he must be happy to finally be given the opportunity to do for his country, what he’s already done so successfully for his club this past season in helping them achieve a top four finish.
King also holds the record of fastest ever Premier League goal, scoring just 10 seconds in a match against Bradford City in 2002. Impressive too for the fact that it was his first ever goal for the club.
Running on to the pitch at Rustenburg stadium today, these local boys are representing not just England, but East and South East London’s ability to produce world class players. From youth teams like Senrab FC, to the numerous academies of local clubs, it’s hard to imagine what the England team would be like today with out them.
Tony Caroll, Club Secretary of Senrab says; “It’s not a closed sport, it’s not elitist, many of them grew up on council estates and it’s traditionally a working class sport. They are role models. Young players now, look up to them. We have seven, eight, and nine year olds here who are excited to see them play.” One can imagine the young Cole, Wright-Phillips and King, looking up to a previous generation of London players such as Tony Adams, Paul Ince, and Teddy Sheringham. The legacy of top class footballers from the area inspiring each generation.
The next time you walk through the local park, you might just see the future star players of the England team, using their school jumpers for goal post’s as they play a game of 5-a side.