Football star Jack Grealish has been backed by his old schoolteacher to create a ‘special moment’ for England during the Euro 2020 final.
The hugely talented Aston Villa captain, 25, could be set to play a major role for his nation against Italy on what may prove to be a historical night at Wembley this weekend.
His former PE teacher Tom Seickell, who taught the midfielder at St Peter’s Catholic School, in Solihull, says he has the “world at his feet” after releasing old pics of teen Grealish in action.
“I’d love to see a special moment from Jack in the final. It would be amazing wouldn’t it? The only thing I’m worried about is what it’s going to be like at school next week – but we’ll cross that bridge when it comes to it,” Mr Seickell told BirminghamLive.
“I think it’s something different he brings to the football pitch, that bit of flair. Jack is a free spirit. When he gets that ball he’s not one that has been conditioned to just knock it back or knock it sideways.
“He’s always looking to get on that ball and think – ‘Can I run at players? Can I beat players? Can I draw them in?’
“He said it himself, he plays with a smile on his face and I think that comes across in his style.
“I think that’s what a lot of the fans relate to as we haven’t had anyone really like that since Gazza.
“Southgate has his systems and knows how he wants to play Jack and where to play him. I’m sure if he’s given another chance on Sunday he’ll give another good account of himself and show the talent he’s got.”
Asked why he thinks Grealish appears to be so humble, Mr Seickell said: “I think he’s got a very strong, close-knit family unit around him and that’s clearly evident.
“I know he lost a sibling early on in his life, he’s got a sister who has learning needs – having that has to keep your feet on the ground.
“I think certain people, including Gareth Southgate has had some strong conversations about what he wants to achieve. He has the world at his feet, but it’s down to him.”
Mr Seickell, who has been teaching PE at St Peters for 32 years, has recalled his memories of Grealish during his school years.
“We knew when he came to us in year 7 that we were getting this lad who was at the Villa,” he said.
“We were aware of his reputation on the football pitch, so we knew we were getting an exceptional footballer.
“He was playing a lot of games for Villa, but we also gave him a platform to represent the school and play and he did from year 7 right through.
“We won a number of cups over the years, which was great.”
He added: “He was a little bit of a free spirit, a bit like he is nowadays on the pitch.
“He’s was a bit of a jack the lad. Studies were secondary to his football. I never taught him in the classroom, but I can imagine within the setting he was just a typical lad who got by.
“But I don’t think he’d be offended if I said he wasn’t the most academic lad – but that wasn’t his focus. He was being touted as this up and coming star who was going to make it in the football world.
“I think he was aware of where his career long term was heading. Whether he’d quite realise his dream of playing in a European final, probably not.
“Football was what he loved to do – playing it in the playground and in PE lessons. He had a strong circle of friends who weren’t all footballers.”
In the semi-final of the U15 Birmingham Schools Aston Villa Charity Cup Grealish was injured after a hefty tackle. But he was desperate to make it back on the pitch, which his teacher let him do.
“He went back on and we managed to see the game out. It got us to Villa Park, so that was a good memory. It showed he was so determined to still want to be a part of the team and its success,” he said.
“It wasn’t all about Jack. We had some very good other players – but the team collective was strong.”
The first game Grealish ever played at Villa Park was the final of the same competition. He scored a penalty – but St Peters lost 3-1 to City Technology Kingshurst, now Tudor Grange Kingshurst, in March 2011.
“We didn’t win. The opposition had done their homework on Jack and he had one of his quieter games,” he said.
Grealish started at St Peters in 2007 and left school in 2011 after being offered a contract at Villa at the end of year 10.
Mr Seickell, who is one of the year lead tutors at the school, hopes Grealish’s school legacy as a role model will inspire the next generation.
“It highlights for them that dreams can come true. They can achieve if they have that drive and desire,” he said.
“Jack had that God given talent. He’s had that ability from a young age and he’s developed that.”
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