On 25 May UEFA Grassroots Day celebrates the strong links between the grassroots game and the elite in the week of the UEFA Champions League final at Wembley. As the quarter-finals get under way, however, one English grassroots club can be particularly proud of their role in developing two of the competition's leading men.
England internationals John Terry and Jermain Defoe both had part of their early careers nurtured by Senrab FC, a club based in east London with a history of producing young talents who have become successful professionals. Aside from Terry and Defoe, Sol Campbell and Ledley King – another two players with Tottenham Hotspur FC links – are among those to have stepped out onto the pitches of Wanstead Flats.
Defoe has moved on from those modest surroundings to this week hoping to play in Tottenham's visit to the Estadio Santiago Bernabéu to face Real Madrid CF. Yet he still recalls fondly his Senrab days. "I've still got a lot of my videos and some great memories to be honest," he told UEFA.com. "We had a good team, a very good team. A lot of good players have come out of Senrab – Ledley King, JT [Terry], Bobby Zamora – but they were a few years older than me."
Defoe started playing for Senrab, which operates 15 teams for age groups ranging from five to 17, in the under-8 side and always had a knack of finding the net even from a young age. He once scored six goals before being substituted at half-time in a schools cup final.
"Even from the beginning, when I was at school, I have always wanted to score goals. I always wanted to get the glory. So yes, even from school I was a striker. I played for my district as striker too," said the 28-year-old former West Ham United FC and Portsmouth FC forward, who has scored three times in Tottenham's European campaign, in what has been an injury-plagued season.
Now back to full fitness, he added: "I remember not sleeping, waking up at eight in the morning and running into my mum's room saying, 'Are you ready? Are we going? Drive me to football!' That buzz that I had in the mornings when I used to wake up, it's hard to put into words really, the feeling I used to get when I used to get up in the morning. All I wanted to do was go out and play football and score goals.
"The important thing for me is that I still get that buzz now. It's special, but I will never forget those days, when I was eight or nine and I first started playing. You know, your parents are standing on the line, cheering you on, it's just fantastic. So yes, I have great memories."
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