Words by Gary Carter
JAMES Tarkowski has thanked Oldham for giving him the grounding that helped him become an England player – even the fans who moaned at him!
The Burnley star has made it to the national side and could step out at the World Cup in the summer.
It is a world away from coming through at Boundary Park, where he would often clean the first team players’ boots before training alongside them.
And he admits his development at the Latics, where he was from 2009 to 2014, provided the base for him to become a Premier League star – both physically and especially mentally.
Tarkowski broke his leg as a 16-year-old then when he was 17, he had an operation to trim his feet down as they were too big!
But thanks to academy boss Tony Philliskirk, he never strayed from his path towards the England side, even though he got some grief in his early days.
Tarkowski said: “Tony really pushed me and physio John Guy got me through a lot of the injuries I suffered. Some people face it at the end of the career, I had to face it at the start. Hopefully I’ve got them out of the way now.
“I moved from Oldham to Blackburn when I was 11 and the time there really improved me as a player technically but I really feel I started to move forward and progress when I went back to Oldham.
“It was a learning curve after Paul Dickov gave me my chance. I came on for my debut against Brentford when Oldham were 2-0 up and my first start was at Leyton Orient, when they lost 1-0.
“I thought I was playing well and over the next couple of years I was in and out of the team. He gave me chances, but it was only when Tony took over as caretaker that he said, ‘This is your spot while I’m in charge,’ and Lee Johnson did the same.
“I was a trainee, so I was still doing a lot of jobs around the first team. I’d clean boots than train with the lads afterwards but I loved every moment.
“And it makes you mentally strong. I admit I was mentally weak when I first joined there. I didn’t have as much desire as I needed.
“It’s tough when you’re young and you’re thrown in and there’s fans being good money week in, week out every week to watch you. If you don’t give the performance they need, they get on your back but that prepares you for the bigger occasions.
“Facing relegation battles most years was tough but it prepares you for later life in football.”
Tarkowski, who admits he was ‘lazy’ when he was 16-years-old, kept on rising and after a spell at Brentford, the 25-year-old has established himself as one of the Premier League’s best, but he still watches his old club in action.
Now he is an England international and not even the VAR (video assistant referee) decision that saw him concede a late penalty in the 1-1 draw with Italy took the gloss off his debut.
However, one thing did worry him – messing up the national anthem!
He added: “What was going through my mind as I lined up? ‘Don’t mess up the anthem!’
“I’d never really sung it before, other than when I’d had a few beers with my mates watching England play a few years ago.
“I think I should’ve practised as I think I messed up one of the lines!
“It was a perfect night really but the VAR decision didn’t mar my night at all. It’s one of those things, in most other games it wouldn’t get given and I don’t think many people appealed for it.
“I’ve even spoken to referees and other people since and they agree with me but I’m not going to let that effect what happened on the night.”