In 2020, 14 per cent of the Premier League’s English-born players came from within 10 square miles of south London. The area has long been a hotbed of footballing talent, with some of the biggest names in the game heralding from the streets of the capital’s southern boroughs. It’s easy to glamorise the idea of skilful players honing their craft in the ‘Concrete Catalonia’, but one of the many reasons players from south London are thriving is the fierce competition they go up against from an early age.
Ryan Sessegnon said: “They used to try and bully us on the pitch. You don’t want to stay on the floor – it’s concrete: you had to get up and play. Where I’m from, you have to fight for everything. You stood up for the fight.”
West Ham’s Antonio had a similar experience. He grew up in Wandsworth and started his journey on the streets before signing for non-league Tooting & Mitcham.
Michail Antonio said: “I grew up in south London, but I’ve lived up north.They don’t have them cages like we do in south London. Wherever you go, there’s five-a-side, there’s little areas where you kick. You’re in there for hours, just for the fun of it. If we didn’t have that sanctuary, I don’t know where we would’ve spent our time.”
For mercurial midfielder Eberechi Eze at Crystal Palace, the first thing he thinks about when he reminisces about playing street football in south London is enjoyment – something which to this day he reminds himself of while playing at the highest level.
Eberechi Eze said: “I’m playing football to enjoy myself. I’m not going to worry about what anyone’s got to say about me. That’s really important to me because I know where I’ve come from. How I enjoyed playing football in the cage – that’s what I want to do in the Prem.”
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