Brighton's late bloomer Dale Stephens brushing up on Latin during lockdown
Sky Sports exclusive: Brighton midfielder has been kept busy with homeschooling, but he had time to reflect on his career path
Last Updated: 01/05/20 7:58pm
Dale Stephens is looking forward to the return of his day job, not least because of the stresses of homeschooling.
The Brighton midfielder has featured in 24 of his side's 29 Premier League games this season, but the 30-year-old has been reduced to Zoom calls with his team-mates when he is not busy playing teacher to his three children.
"That's proving a bit stressful in my household," he told Sky Sports. "I'm brushing up on my Latin, French and German etc, so I'm learning something new every day.
"They're 11, eight and seven and there are a few languages which I'm not very fluent in so it's a learning curve for myself as well.
"It's hands on. They've got these Zoom calls with the teachers if needed and we're just there to provide a little bit of encouragement. Kids can get distracted quite easily, there's a garden with a trampoline which doesn't help things, so it's just about contributing what you can and schoolwork is what we've done.
"The first two weeks, I didn't mind it, I enjoyed it, and I got to spend time with the family and the children and spend a lot of time at home. Sometimes it can be a few days away and the kids and missus start getting on your back a little bit.
"So it's quite nice in that respect, obviously it's been extended and that could change but I've enjoyed it, especially the training at home.
"We're fortunate to have kit delivered by the club and we've got what we need to say fit. No excuses over here... we're still doing the training!"
It has always been Stephens' ambition to reach the Premier League as a professional, having started at Bury, signed permanently at Oldham and then been shipped out to Rochdale for a bit of experience on loan.
It was at Spotland where he worked under manager Keith Hill and coach David Flitcroft where he really kicked on in his attempts to fulfil his potential.
Stephens added: "I went there with Chris O'Grady at the time, I think it was three months around Christmas time on an emergency loan and I ended up getting really fit, the training was really hard.
"We did a lot of old school training, I knew Flickers from when he was a player at Bury and was coming to the end of his career, so I knew him from before I went to Rochdale. I was there for around three months and that year, they went on to win promotion and I contributed towards that which is a highlight."
Now a regular fixture in Brighton's midfield under Graham Potter, it is remarkable to think his early experiences as a footballer came in a very different position.
"I was about eight years old and I went training as a goalkeeper," he recalled. "I think you spend most of your younger years finding what position you fit in and what you're best at.
"I wasn't really that tall actually. I've reached 6ft 2in now but it took me to the age of 16 to get near six foot. As an eight-year-old, I wasn't really that big and being a goalkeeper didn't suit me.
"I tried every position to be fair, I was even a striker up until I was about 15 or 16 and then I converted to a midfielder. I was a failed striker! I've got a lot of experience all over the park but I finally settled on centre-mid."
Stephens hasn't taken the conventional route to the highest form of English football, having not played at academies like many of his peers during his youth.
As a 15-year-old, he was still playing Saturday and Sunday division football - but the midfielder says those experiences helped shape his career.
"It was tough but a good learning curve," Stephens said. "I remember playing in Bolton with my step-dad and all of his friends on a Thursday evening, I was only 15 or 16 then playing with fully grown men and I feel like I learnt my trade more in that respect than actually coming through a professional academy like most people do now.
"I got invited for a trial match at Bury eventually. There were 24 or 25 players and you got one game. Luckily, I scored twice from centre mid as well which is unusual for me.
"I still had the goalscoring instinct then, I think I've lost it over the years. It's an interesting story, my Sunday league manger requested a trail, then I played a trial match - which wasn't even a proper trial - and then I got offered a six-week trial to do the Youth Training Scheme and two-year scholarship at Bury so I did that and then finally got a professional contract."
Fast-forward to the present day, and Brighton are perched three places and two points above the relegation zone with nine Premier League games remaining.
It has been a transitional campaign for the Seagulls after Chris Hughton was replaced as manager, and while Stephens admits playing every week against the country's best players has met his expectations, he has relished adapting to the contrast in style between Potter and his predecessor.
"The style Chris Hughton had compared to the manager now, Graham, they've got different beliefs in the way they like to play football," Stephens said.
"You have to adapt to it, he came through the door and knew exactly what he wanted, the new gaffer and knew what he had to work with. It was just trying to get the point across without training too much straight away.
"It was a process of going from one philosophy that we had for the four or five years that Chris was here and the manager had to change it.
"He couldn't come in straight away and say 'this is how we're going to play' straight away, he did it over a couple of months and towards Christmas, we were finding our feet in the system he wanted us to play and to be fair, I've enjoyed it.
"He's probably had the biggest influence on me for a football perspective because I never played in a team that likes to play out from the back with different ideas, I've never been in that surroundings, so at my age now of 30, I'm still learning which is nice."