In an exclusive interview with Sky Sports, Everton and England defender Ben Godfrey discusses the resilience he had to show after being released and enduring unsuccessful trials. Proving people wrong has driven him on ever since…
Tuesday 12 April 2022 11:20, UK
Ben Godfrey is at an adidas photo-shoot at Altrincham football club, alongside players from Everton and Manchester City. He is more reflective than most. For some Premier League players, this is a far cry from what they are used to. For him, it is a reminder.
"It takes me back to my York days," Godfrey tells Sky Sports as he surveys the stands, the cabins and the local advertising boards. "This is where it all started for me."
At 24, he is already an established Premier League player with Everton and a senior international with England. The caps are at home. "Until my family come around and have their hands all over them." But before all this, his career in the game was in the balance.
Godfrey was released by Middlesbrough. "It felt a little bit like the dream was over." After that, there were trials with Barnsley, Sheffield Wednesday and Leeds United. None led to a contract. "For them to say no was a massive confidence-breaker, really," he adds.
"It looked like the end of the journey."
It was a comment from a coach at Leeds that set him on a new path.
"The moment that stands out massively is after that Leeds United trial. The coach told me they were not going to offer me anything but to go and prove him wrong. That stuck with me. I was desperate then. I could not wait to go and prove them wrong."
The process began almost immediately. "It started with hard work. Me and my dad would spend hours practising stuff at our local field nearby. I set out on that journey to prove those people wrong who had said no to me all those years ago.
"I was fortunate enough to have good people around me. My family always believed in me and kept me going. They were taking me up and down the country, reminding me that I had what it took to overcome it and fulfil my dream of becoming a footballer.
"Resilience has played a massive part in my success."
It was a loan move to Shrewsbury that prepared him for Norwich's first team. There were two trips to Wembley and 51 appearances that season. "That was massive. I absolutely loved it. It was such an important stepping stone. I still stay in touch with some of them."
As a teenager playing in midfield in League One, he remembers the learning curve being steep. "I enjoyed chucked in at the deep end. Luckily enough I had the physical attributes to handle it. It just helped me grow as a player. And as a person if I am honest."
He recalls a recent training-ground conversation with Everton youngsters Ellis Simms and Tyler Onyango. "They were asking me about my experiences. There comes a time when you need to play. Make those mistakes, learn from them. It will make you better."
This continues to shape Godfrey's mentality.
Ask him what aspect of his game he wants to improve and the reply is instant. "Everything," he says. "Tactically, technically, leadership, decision-making, my all-round game. I just want to be a better player. I know there is more in the tank than I have shown this season.
"I am my own biggest critic. I always want to be above the level I am at but your best years are only ahead of you if you keep working hard. If you get comfortable you can soon flatline your progression or even go backwards. It is engrained in me to stay hungry."
Where does that drive come from? "Making my family proud is a massive motivator," he explains. "I want to achieve things in football. It is the thrill of doing that. You are always chasing things. Improving my game will get me closer to those accolades."
And that is about much more than just the 90 minutes.
"It is the work nobody sees. It is not always related to what happens on game day, it is the work that you do on the training ground when there is nobody there or in your spare time practising at home when other people aren't. Those are the extra percentages."
It helps to explain why even the memory of his two England appearances comes with a caveat. The satisfaction of having reached that pinnacle is laced with the thought that he did not make the subsequent Euro 2020 squad.
He continues to strive for more.
"It comes back to being hungry for more and being my biggest critic. Even though I enjoyed making my England debut, not making that Euro squad, I use that as fuel now. I saw the level that I need to get to if I want to stay in squads. That is what I have my eye on now.
"Wanting to do well, it is an addiction."
Everyone is a product of their environment, the sum of their experiences. Godfrey himself wonders whether his own disappointments as a young player trying to make his way in the game have shaped his thinking, even now.
The desire to prove others wrong remains.
"It is a strange old journey," he concludes.
"I looked up to those lads in academies at big clubs when doing my scholarship at York but in the long run is that beneficial for them? I am not so sure. I have friends who were at so-called bigger clubs than me at a younger age and we just passed each other.
"But every path is different, there is not just one route to success, you have to try to consider the best options presented to you in line with your goals. I started out down the non-league route and hopefully that inspires other young players who may have been released that there are different routes to still making it in the game.
"I had to really believe in myself and never forget to put in those extra hours of hard work. I had to have that confidence that I would always make it to where I wanted to be. I am so grateful for the ups and the downs because they have got me to where I am today.
"I would not change any of it for the world."
Ben Godfrey wears adidas X Speedflow, available at adidas.co.uk/football-shoes