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Everton keeper Jordan Pickford has been on quite a journey

by 11/08/2017 18:52:00 0 comments 1 Views

By Dominic King for the Daily Mail

Published: 18:01 EDT, 11 August 2017 | Updated: 18:52 EDT, 11 August 2017

There will be a jolt when Jordan Pickford sits down for his pre-match meal, a stark reminder about the colourful road he has travelled.

The dish, from those early days as a youngster at Sunderland with stars in his eyes, has never changed. The man who became the most expensive British goalkeeper in history in June — when he signed for Everton for a club-record £30million — has always chosen chicken and pasta.

But the jolt will come on Saturday, three hours before kick-off, when he joins his new team-mates and thinks about his route into the big time. One of the sharpest memories will involve being in the back of his parents' car, heading to non-League grounds, with the same food in front of him.

Everton goalkeeper Jordan Pickford is preparing for his Premier League debut for his new club
Everton goalkeeper Jordan Pickford is preparing for his Premier League debut for his new club

Everton goalkeeper Jordan Pickford is preparing for his Premier League debut for his new club

Pickford joined Everton from Sunderland for a British-record fee for a goalkeeper in June
Pickford joined Everton from Sunderland for a British-record fee for a goalkeeper in June

Pickford joined Everton from Sunderland for a British-record fee for a goalkeeper in June

'I'd travel to Alfreton for games and my dad, Lee, would drive,' says Pickford. 'I'd eat my pre-match meal in the back. Mam would make chicken and pasta and she'd stick it in a tub. I'm not sure it was too professional but as long as I was getting man of the match it was all right! They both came to every game, it was brilliant.

'It's the little things you remember. My mam, Sue, would take me to training in a taxi when I was a kid if dad, who is a builder, had to work on a Saturday morning. You look back at the stuff like that and realise the sacrifices were all worth it.'

Pickford is 23 and is regarded as having the potential to become England's No 1 for the next decade. Everton are thrilled with their investment, having identified him as a target for this window before David Moyes made him Sunderland's No 1 last August.

He is the product of fine coaching at the Academy of Light, thriving under the influence of Kevin Ball and Mark Prudhoe, but his story is not simply confined to playing on perfectly manicured pitches and using the best facilities. Pickford's education, in many ways, is a throwback to a different era.

The 23-year-old impressed for Sunderland despite the club being relegated last campaign
The 23-year-old impressed for Sunderland despite the club being relegated last campaign

The 23-year-old impressed for Sunderland despite the club being relegated last campaign

Pickford is known for his command of the penalty area, seen punching clear against Sevilla
Pickford is known for his command of the penalty area, seen punching clear against Sevilla

Pickford is known for his command of the penalty area, seen punching clear against Sevilla

Loans are the best way to learn... I'd get battered going for crosses

Alfreton Town — and the days of meals on wheels — was one of six loans. The first was to Darlington, as a 17-year-old, in January 2012 with stints at Burton, Carlisle, Bradford and Preston following. They were hard and uncompromising but helped turn a boy into a man.

'I'd say it is the proper way,' Pickford explains. 'Pruds (Prudhoe) sent me on that pathway, along with my agents. Sometimes I was getting bored playing in youth games and in the reserves, I didn't think it was challenging. I always wanted to be challenged and better myself.

'It's a perfect way to do things, especially as a goalkeeper. When you are a young lad, you go and get battered when you come out for crosses. As a keeper you have to be brave and there is no place to hide when you go away with 'Darlo' and Alfreton. What an experience!

'You'd go to away grounds and you'd hear everything being shouted at you.

'I remember being at Southport going for a drink of water and one old bloke shouts, 'Hey you, young lad! Your grandad is under that grass!' I just turned around to him, gave him the thumbs-up and said, "Nae problem!"

Pickford's parents will be in the stands to watch their son making his Everton league debut
Pickford's parents will be in the stands to watch their son making his Everton league debut

Pickford's parents will be in the stands to watch their son making his Everton league debut

A period at Alfreton Town was one of six loans for Pickford during his formative playing days 
A period at Alfreton Town was one of six loans for Pickford during his formative playing days 

A period at Alfreton Town was one of six loans for Pickford during his formative playing days 

Pickford is targeting a place in England's squad should they reach the World Cup in Russia
Pickford is targeting a place in England's squad should they reach the World Cup in Russia

Pickford is targeting a place in England's squad should they reach the World Cup in Russia

'One time with Carlisle we went to Crawley by coach on a Friday, it absolutely hoyed down with rain. On the Saturday, while we were having the pre-match, they called the game off at 1pm. So we had to drive home (345 miles) then come back and do it two weeks later. It's all experience, isn't it?'

He smiles non-stop as he recounts these tales, explaining how a dance tune called I'll Fly With You would provide the soundtrack in the car on a Friday night when he went to training in Gateshead and, before that, how his brother, Richard, set him on the path to becoming a goalkeeper.

'We had a good craic when we were kids and we used to play outside,' Pickford says. 'Richard used to say to me, "Get on that tarmac and dive about". He used to be decent and was at Darlington, but he did both his cruciates and doesn't play anymore.'

Pickford led England to the semi-final of the European Under 21 Championship in June 2017
Pickford led England to the semi-final of the European Under 21 Championship in June 2017

Pickford led England to the semi-final of the European Under 21 Championship in June 2017

Pickford will come up against another England No 1 hopeful in Jack Butland on Saturday
Pickford will come up against another England No 1 hopeful in Jack Butland on Saturday

Pickford will come up against another England No 1 hopeful in Jack Butland on Saturday

Richard's unfortunate experience in the professional game has served to sharpen his younger sibling's resolve to fulfil his ambitions by climbing to the top. He might be self-effacing and grounded in conversation but his character changes when there are points to be won. Each goal shipped is taken as a personal affront.

'Sometimes you can't help conceding as a keeper but that's the whole reason you are there,' Pickford says. 'I want to get better as a person and a player and the change in my life, by joining Everton, will help me do that.

'I was away with England Under 21s (in Poland) in the summer when the deal got done. I spoke to Ronald Koeman and he was very impressive. He expects high standards and I've got to be "bob on" every day in training. You have got to keep performing for him.

'As a group of lads, they have all been legends. They are a tight-knit squad and having that first week away with them in Holland helped massively. Wayne (Rooney) has just come back, then there are people like (Leighton) Bainesy, Jags (Phil Jagielka) and Gaz (Gareth) Barry.

Everton finished seventh last term and Pickford feels the squad can challenge the top six
Everton finished seventh last term and Pickford feels the squad can challenge the top six

Everton finished seventh last term and Pickford feels the squad can challenge the top six

The vocal stopper is eyeing a long and prosperous campaign in the Europa League
The vocal stopper is eyeing a long and prosperous campaign in the Europa League

The vocal stopper is eyeing a long and prosperous campaign in the Europa League

Pickford was a stand-out performer for Sunderland in a poor season at the Stadium of Light
Pickford was a stand-out performer for Sunderland in a poor season at the Stadium of Light

Pickford was a stand-out performer for Sunderland in a poor season at the Stadium of Light

'They set the example. Then you see the manager and the ambition around the place and you know you are at the right club. I signed before the Euros and that was the first hurdle cleared. The second one is now in front of me.'

That obstacle is getting established with Everton and then making England coach Gareth Southgate take notice.

The next phase of his career starts on Saturday afternoon, when his parents will be in the crowd for the opening challenge against Stoke. There are no nerves — he has dismissed the transfer fee as 'just a number' — simply excitement about what is to come.

'I need to be in control and make myself the best I can be,' he says firmly. 'If I do that, everything else should take care of itself. We have got a great squad here and everyone is getting to know each other. That is what pre-season is for.

'We just have to take each game as it comes because we have got a busy few weeks, with the Premier League and the Europa League. But it is something to look forward to. This is what you want to be a part of. It's pressure but I am going to thrive on it.'

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