Ollie Watkins: The road from non-league to England



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Just six years ago, Ollie Watkins was netting for Weston-super-mare in the National League South division, but fast-forward to March 2021 and the striker is now representing his country in their World Cup qualification campaign.

With injuries taking their toll on the Three Lions attack, Gareth Southgate looked to the 25-year-old who has impressed in the Premier League since his switch from Brentford to Aston Villa last summer.

Watkins’ call-up is the latest chapter in the climb from ‘non-league to international duty’ story, following in the footsteps of the likes of Jamie Vardy, Callum Wilson and Chris Smalling.

“Obviously it’s a nice feeling being here.

“I’m just trying to take it all in, I’m excited to be here.

“Looking back, it has been a bit of a journey, but it has been a great journey and I’ve had some tough times on the way but also some good ones.” He told England’s official website. 

The Villa forward was handed his England debut on Thursday evening as Southgate’s side began their World Cup qualification journey with a 5-0 win against San Marino.

Appearing from the bench it took just 20 minutes for Watkins to clinch a debut goal and ‘a dream’ start to life with the Three Lions.

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To put Watkins’ rise into perspective, he was scoring in Weston-Super-Mare’s 2-1 loss at Whitehawk in National League South the day after Harry Kane scored against Lithuania on his England debut in March 2015. He explained how he looks up to Kane as an inspiration and someone who he can learn from:

“I’ve spoken to him a couple of times, he’s a really nice guy. I was just asking him how he trains, what he does, how he looks after himself, just to get some inside knowledge on how he works.

“I think he’s got everything, really, so definitely someone I can learn off and see how he works on a day-to-day basis.”

Non-league may seem like a long way away from the glitz and glamour of the Premier League but, every once in a while, it can serve as a breeding ground for some future top-flight stars to gift their craft and get their break at the top.

Likewise, the Villan, too, can be an inspiration to others, having come through the ranks at Exeter and flourished in the Championship with Brentford before breaking into the Premier League.

A product of Exeter City, Watkins signed his first professional contract in 2014. Having been frequently named as a substitute, Paul Tisdale (Exeter Manager 2006-2018) sent him on loan to Weston-super-mare.

After spending a season on loan with the Seagulls in which he scored 10 goals in 24 appearances, the Torquay born attacker returned to St James Park.

“Playing men’s football for the first time, going out on loan, realising how much it meant to the people – they have mortgages to pay and kids to feed.

“I definitely had a switch in my mentality, so I think Weston was a massive key part of my development.”

He spent a further two years with the Grecians, picking up EFL League Two Player of the Month (January 2017) and EFL Young Player of the year, before swapping the red and white stripes of Devon for the red and white stripes of Brentford in July 2017.

Watkins took the Championship by storm and thrived in front of goal, scoring 45 goals in 132 appearances over a three-year period, netting 26 goals in his final season as a Bee.

Meanwhile, September 9th, 2020 saw the Championship hotshot switch to the West Midlands as he put pen to paper on a five-year contract at Villa Park. A club record £28 million fee.

He introduced himself to the Premier League in explosive fashion as the forward fired a perfect first-half hat-trick to help Aston Villa beat reigning champions Liverpool 7-2 at Villa Park.

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Watkins’ former Exeter City youth-team manager, Kevin Nicholson said: “Some of the qualities you see now in Ollie at Premier League level are some of the lasting images I have of him on a pitch playing for Exeter,”

“His ability to hold off opponents in one v one situations, to press defenders, he was always very hard-working, very determined. He was his own biggest critic.”

With 12 goals to his name so far this season and helping his country on the road to Qatar, the question that rests on people’s minds is – will Ollie Watkins earn a place in the squad for this summer’s European Championships?

Nevertheless, such experiences have meant that Watkins remains grounded and is only focused on the present time rather than the potential of playing at this summer’s rearranged Euro’s.

“I’m not trying to think too far ahead,” .

“I just take each day and training session as it comes, focus on the next. That’s what I always got told.

“I’m just going to try and enjoy this week, work hard and make a good impression and then see where it goes from there.

“After that, try and perform well week in, week out for my club and then see what happens.”

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Sports Journalism undergraduate at the University of Central Lancashire (UCLan) with an excellent knowledge and passion for football. As well as a strong all-round understanding of most major sports. Given my passion for sport and my previous experiences in Business, I know a career in Sports Journalism would be perfect for me.

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