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Opinion: Rise to stardom of Everton hero Dominic Calvert-Lewin reveals value of England’s football pyramid

Martin Cooper October 13, 2020
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Photo by MICHAEL REGAN/POOL/AFP via Getty Images

Amid the storm that surrounds the proposed Big Picture and the effect that might have on teams outside the Premier League, it’s worth taking a look at the current England squad and specifically Dominic Calvert-Lewin.

In the match at Wembley against Wales on Thursday (8 October), a frustrating start was broken by a typically robust header from Everton striker Dominic Calvert-Lewin. The 23-year-old Blues man broke the deadlock, scoring on his full international debut.

Many people will only know Calvert-Lewin from his time with the Toffees. Others will remember his league career began with Sheffield United.

It was there former Blues defender and now academy director David Unsworth first spotted Calvert-Lewin and managed to buy the forward for a “cheeky” bid of £1.5m in 2016.

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Before then, the head of the Blades’ academy at the time, Nick Cox, decided to navigate a path to first-team football for Calvert-Lewin. The plan included a change in position for the then midfielder and a loan spell at non-league Stalybridge Celtic.

Dominic Calvert-Lewin at Stalybridge Celtic

Calvert-Lewin made his Stalybridge debut against local rivals Hyde United – and it left the 17-year-old with a scar still visible today.

Cox told BBC Sport: “It was cold, horrible and Dom froze under pressure of senior-level football. Just before half-time he got a whack around his head where he was seeing double and had a big bruise around his eye.

“He was only there for a month, so if he took an opportunity to come off, he wouldn’t be playing much after that.

“Dom stayed on, scored a scrappy goal from a yard out, scored two in the reverse fixture, which they won 7-1, and ended up scoring five in six games to become a bit of a Stalybridge legend.”

Calvert-Lewin said: “It gave me that sense of what it was to play in front of fans, to play proper men’s football, and it was definitely a catalyst in propelling me forward.”

Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images

Other humble beginnings

The Everton striker, currently top scorer in the Premier League, wasn’t the only player in the England versus Wales game to have benefited from non-league football.

Southampton striker Danny Ings, who also notched his first England goal, with a sublime overhead kick, has credited a loan spell at Dorchester Town for “toughening” him up while a young player at Bournemouth.

Aston Villa centre-back Tyrone Mings, who came off the bench in the Wales game, also has a background outside the top tiers.

After leaving school, Mings signed for non-league Yate Town before joining local team Chippenham in 2012. Ipswich signed Mings for £10,000 and the rest, as they say, is history.

The core of the England national set-up features a heavy presence of players from the ‘big six’, but a quick glance at the latest squad reveals how valuable the football pyramid really is.

Whatever side of the Big Picture argument you’re on, the value of even the smallest clubs in England shouldn’t be forgotten – or underestimated.

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Martin Cooper is a senior editor and writer at The Focus. The man behind the style guide comes from a newspaper and magazine background and has worked in the sports, aeronautical and hospitality industries. While head of production at The Argus he appeared on the Jeremy Vine radio show and worked as a freelancer on the sports desk at The Sunday Times. Martin is also an FA Level 1-qualified coach and took his youth team from division five to division one in two seasons before going out at the top.