The coaches saw this as the perfect final test, putting us up against a team of extremely physical, ruthlessly conditioned grown men.
I’ll never forget the buzz of that whole day…
Walking into the changing room with our England kits fully laid out, wired to compete after a spectacular team talk.
“Today you are representing England, no matter what happens to you, nobody can ever take that away from you. This is a day that you’ll tell your grandchildren about, now go out there and do your country proud.”
I was PUMPED…
And went on to have what was (in my opinion) my best performance of the whole process so far.
In my head I’d certainly redeemed the reputation I felt was dented after the previous trial.
There were 5 centre backs to choose from, and I felt that by some distance myself and Chris were the top performers, whether we played alongside each other or not.
I left the trials feeling quietly confident and relieved that I had made up for my lacklustre performance at the previous trial.
They would let us know by Thursday who had made the final squad of 20 players to go on and face Ireland, Wales, Australia and Scotland at Wembley in the Centenary Shield.
I spent the rest of the week nervous, excited, anxious, hopeful, unsure – every emotion you can possibly think of, I felt it.
The day my entire football career and reputation in school would hinge upon.
Every minute that passed felt like an hour, I just wanted to know if I had made it into the final squad one way or the other.
Until it happened…
I had just arrived home from school, a new post on my Facebook wall from one of the other players.
I opened it, my fingers were tingling.
The post read: “Congratulations mate! Buzzing to be in the squad with you!”
I punched the air exhilarated and ran to the phone to call my Dad.
Mid phone call, I refreshed the page – the post was gone...
I hit refresh again
The post had been deleted...
My heart suddenly sunk, thinking “that can’t be a good sign…”
Maybe he just wasn’t sure if he was supposed to share it around?
Maybe he had accidentally hit ‘delete’?
As time went on, I slowly came to the realisation that something was up, my letter still hadn’t arrived and the player who had posted on my wall wasn’t responding to me.
Sure enough, about an hour later it was confirmed that I had in fact missed out on the final squad of 20 to play at Wembley.
I was on standby instead – which was really just a nicer way of breaking the bad news to me I thought.
The player had mistakenly posted on my wall, thinking I was on the squad list.
I’ve never felt emotions like it.
Pure elation to complete devastation.
I went to my room and locked myself away for the rest of the evening.
There was nothing anyone could say to make me feel better, my parents knew that.
They’d need to just leave me be to ride this one out.
That was one of the most character-building days of my life.
As it turned out, one of the midfielders who could also ‘fill in’ at centre back had taken my spot, as the manager planned on playing only 3 at the back in the international matches.
I want to link you back to when I was at Wycombe Wanderers and the coach was adamant that I cannot be a ‘ball playing’ centre back.
As I said I began to find my old form again when I left, but there’s no doubt that irreversible damage was done during that period.
I was forever self-conscious about running with the ball into midfield, and now more often than not opted for the less risky passing option...
I was still the same defender, but in terms of being on the ball I was reluctant to bring the ball forwards even though I still had the ability to.
That dilution of what was once of my key strengths proved to be the difference for me, this is the real feedback from the England Schoolboys manager my school received after not making the squad:
"James made an impression immediately with his dominant performances as a very effective central defender. His attitude to coaching sessions was exemplary, and he established himself at an early stage as a contender for International Selection.
This promise was borne out through the various trials, he acquitted himself extremely well again, and had a solid game against The Royal Navy, helping his squad to a 3 - 1 win.
To say he missed selection for the final 20 by a whisker would be accurate, and he certainly would have been selected in a number of previous squads in the years I have been involved.
He was unfortunate that in this particular season he was up against three other excellent central defenders who, in our opinion, just had an edge on him in terms of comfort on the ball and the ability to bring the ball out from the back third. (One of these players has subsequently signed a 3-year contract for Fulham, so James certainly had competition)."
I couldn't believe it.
The very thing that I was told to stop doing at Wycombe, was now the very reason why I had missed out.
And I couldn't argue with it, they were right.
I was more cautious about bringing the ball out of defence, whereas before I relished the challenge.
Before I'd look to do it almost every time I got the ball, it was my key strength.
As it turned out, Chris went on to play for Man Utd & England as I said before, Aaron also went on to play in the Premier League for Southampton and Johnny (the midfielder/defender) went on to play for Leeds United before suffering a career ending injury.
They were all scouted whilst playing in the matches that followed the final trial.