Jack Grealish says he felt “goosebumps” as he played his first England international in front of supporters on Wednesday, and that the squad can recreate the feeling of the summer of 2018.
The playmaker earned his sixth cap in the 1-0 win over Austria in Middlesbrough, but it happened to be his first with a crowd, and reminded him of the kind of atmosphere he was aiming to be a part of. Grealish said he was mostly in Marbella and Ibiza for the 2018 World Cup, but is desperate to be part of something similar for the next tournament.
“I actually said to someone after the game tonight: ‘It feels nice to be playing in a stadium with England fans who support different clubs but they’re there supporting you,’” the 25-year-old said. “It was the first time I’d ever done it. Obviously most of the lads here had played with fans before, but for me it was my first time and I absolutely loved it.
“It gave me goosebumps when I was singing the national anthem and listening to the crowd as well. But going back to 2018, it was one summer which brought the whole nation together and I remember watching all of the games.
“I remember that whole summer actually, because of obviously what happened and I’m not even just saying this because it sounds good or whatever, but because I genuinely mean it, but I think that was one summer where it was as if like Gareth and the lads brought the whole nation together, just from the way they played at that World Cup.
“I can’t even explain to you. I’d absolutely love to be [part of something similar]. Even when I was in the squad the other day, I got the No 7 shirt and got so many messages from family and friends saying they were going out straight away to buy a shirt. In the last two or three years everyone has talked about that summer of 2018 and me watching on was unbelievable, but being part of it is what I’ve wanted to do all season. Since the start of the season I said to myself I want to get in the Euro squad.
“I did interviews with people and have not shied away from saying how much I wanted to be in the squad. I had my aims with my club this season, but my number one aim for the whole season was to get in the squad and thankfully I’ve done it and hopefully I can be part of a good summer.”
Grealish added he is proud to inherit the No 7 jersey, given the players who have worn it for England in tournaments, not least David Beckham.
“What young lad didn’t look up to David Beckham? If I have half the career he had, then I’ll be over the moon. Obviously I always looked up to him when I was younger, through the main things that stick out throughout his career. Obviously he had a lot of great moments, but the goal against Greece to send England to the [2002 World Cup], and you know, every kid grew up looking up to him. I certainly did.
“The No 7 was a bit of an iconic number in England terms. So many great players have worn the shirt and hopefully I can follow in their footsteps and perform well in it.”
Grealish said he had no concerns over his own fitness, despite only getting back to playing games towards the end of the season, and appearing to put an icepack on his shin upon coming off in the Austria game.
“It’s not actually shin splints,” he said. “It’s just a little bit of stress that I had on my shin. I’ve seen numerous people about it now. And I’m working, still now, I’m a little bit aware of it. But not as much as before and I’m just working hard to try and get rid of that and try and do everything I can to make them feel better.
“Obviously there was a point where I thought: ‘Listen, I need to get back into playing club football, because I need to give myself at least three or four games to give myself a chance to be in the Euro squad.’ Luckily I did that and it’s just looking forward from here on in.”