When I did start playing, football became my outlet. I was kind of shy as a kid, but the game helped to bring a lot out of me.
Part of that was about the challenge. I grew up playing street football, where you’re not always playing against kids your own age. Sometimes you’re up against kids who are two or three years older than you. Having my own children now, I know how big a difference those two or three years make when you’re young.
So I learned to approach the game in a different way. It wasn’t so much about strength, but stealth and determination.
Although street football gave me that good grounding, getting away from London when I was 14 worked really well for me. I was part-schooled at the FA’s School of Excellence at Lilleshall, where the desire and hunger that I naturally had could be nourished.
Lilleshall was a haven for excellence. Cricket, hockey, gymnastics, table tennis – they all sent their best young athletes to train there.
“I’d had managers who’d seen talent in me but didn’t want to take the risk on a young kid”
It was the first time I’d really spent time in the country. I remember being surrounded by an abundance of lovely gardens and instantly feeling that those things connected with me.
Some kids went there, and within a month they were homesick and wanted to leave. I never felt that. By the age of 14, I was serious about my sport – and it felt like everything about that place married with my psyche.
It was four years later that I made my senior debut for Tottenham, when Terry Venables brought me on for the last 20 minutes against Chelsea at White Hart Lane. It’s difficult as a youngster – you’re anxious and excited but, coming off the bench, you haven’t got the pace of the game.
I managed to score, though, so it was almost the perfect debut – apart from the fact we lost 2-1. I remember coming off afterwards with my chest all blocked up, full of whatever it gets filled with, and my throat so dry I had to drink a ton of water. All that after just 20 minutes!
It’s a beautiful time in a young player’s journey. But, for me, it wasn’t quite the start I was hoping for. After that game, I wasn’t seen again for the rest of the season.