Following last night's heroic semi-final victory over Denmark for England in UEFA EURO 2020, Hampshire FA would like to share The FA's 'Growing Up' series, presented by Head & Shoulders. In this article, one of last night's heroes, Mason Mount, describes his grassroots football upbringing in Portsmouth.
I’ve always been around football, as far back as I can remember.
My dad was a manager and a player in the past, albeit not at a very high level, but he won a lot of trophies around local football in Portsmouth, where I was born and brought up. That's where my love of the game must've come from, just watching him.
There’s pictures of me on the pitch after my dad’s games when I must’ve been five or six and I still have memories of just playing on the street with my friends in Portsmouth.
I just remember coming back from school, putting a football kit on and going out to play with friends and kicking it off the curb on the street. That’s one of the earliest memories I have really.
I can also remember kicking the ball around in the house, and I can still hear my mum’s voice in my head shouting at me because she was worried about me smashing things - that’s something which always sticks in my head. I hope it was worth it in the end, mum!
In terms of organised football, I first started out playing at a place called Soccer City in Fareham, which had an all-weather pitch. I think I was five when I first went and I just started from there and then my dad got me into a local team – called Boarhunt Rovers.
I played there for a year or so and then went to a club called United Services, where my dad had a team. I was playing a year up so I was six or seven and was playing in U7 or U8 tournaments.
And that was my first test really, playing against the older boys which is a big gap at that age as kids are more developed. That’s when I first started getting spotted by the academies, from Portsmouth, Southampton and Chelsea.
I was still too young to join any of them at that time so I had to wait longer and that was the starting level for me so it was very much between the three clubs at this stage.
I always loved going to Portsmouth and training there as it’s my club, who I support, but when I went to the other academies, you could tell the difference.
I was eight when I first went to Chelsea and it was every Friday that I would go up to train, so we got to know the A3 pretty well, going up and down there.
Every time I went to Chelsea, it was the love of playing against better players and the competition was so high, which really drove me on.
I didn’t really get the chance to play too much for my school because of my involvement at Chelsea. I remember a couple of games I played in, but mainly it was always with the academies and that was where my main influences came.
One of the biggest influences on my career in those early days was a coach called Michael Beale at Chelsea. He was our academy coach back then and really helped me to develop during that time. He now works with Steven Gerrard at Rangers as their first team coach, having also coached at Liverpool.
And the likes of Frank O’Brien, Bob Osborn and Cyril Davies at the Chelsea academy, there’s a lot of names who’ve all been a big part of my career from a young age. They all kind of gave me the tools as a young player to help me get to where I am now.
My main memory from growing up is just having fun really. You’re playing football without any pressure and nothing’s on your mind so you can just play with freedom. I made some great friends too, such as Declan Rice who was with me in the same academy team at Chelsea.
As you move up the ages, that kind of pressure gets more and more, but I used to enjoy kicking a ball and running about and the love that I had for playing football is something I’ll always have.
Growing up, I was a big Portsmouth fan and I still am. So many of their players were my heroes in those days, the likes of Peter Crouch, Niko Kranjcar, Jermain Defoe, Sulley Muntari, Lassana Diarra, Kanu, there was loads.
Andres D’Alessandro was one of the players whose shirt I got, and I got it framed on up my wall. He was a player who I always loved when he played, even though it was only for half a season.
I was lucky enough to share a pitch with David Nugent at Derby last season. He was a bit of a legend at Portsmouth and I was always a big fan and then the next minute I was playing with him.
It was so surreal, playing alongside him after what he’d done with my hometown club, but Nuge was such a good guy and was always speaking to me and helping me out so that was great.
I still try and go to watch Pompey when I can and I’ve been back a couple of times in the last few seasons. It’s not that easy because the season is so busy with Chelsea and England, but any opportunity that I get, I try to go back and watch them with my dad.
That’s my team and I enjoy it in with the crowd. I love going to watch the games and I’ll always support them through thick and thin.
It's just been a great journey so far, and I know how lucky I am to be able to do this for a living.
Playing for both England and Chelsea is all I want to do and after winning medals at junior level, the next aim is to now do that on the senior stage.
You can follow me on Instagram at @MasonMount10