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From non-league to a European Championship final – quiet man Ollie Watkins’ goal was heard from Dortmund to Weston-super-Mare


For a man who enjoys silence, Ollie Watkins certainly knows how to trigger noise. Watkins raised the decibel level to deafening in the Westfalenstadion with his dramatic late goal to take England into the European Championship final. 

The striker admits he likes sitting back and listening to members of the squad, not feeling a pressing need or obligation to contribute, just relaxed in their company. Watkins is the quiet man of the squad, until he comes to singing when he can deliver a decent version of Luther Vandross’ “Never Too Much”.

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Watkins’ cameo in the semi-final has turned him into England’s leading man

Watkins is one of the most fascinating characters in Gareth Southgate’s squad, intelligent and able to draw on plenty of life experiences. He’s lived outside the elite football bubble. He’s been tested on a journey. 

The toast of England fans in Dortmund can remember when he was in a relegation scrap with Weston-Super-Mare, changing in cramped conditions before running on to a tricky pitch at Whitehawk FC. 

He can remember coming off the bench with his team 2-0 down at Bromley, the pitch bobbly, the wind howling through Hayes Lane, and eventually losing 3-0. He can remember being used wide, so far removed from his centre-forward days with Brentford, Aston Villa and now in 14 internationals for England. He can remember being rejected by Exeter City at Under-8 level before returning the following year and showing why they should give him a chance. 

Dreams matter. Hard work gets rewarded. Tough times can be fought through. Watkins is a story of persistence. It’s also a story of the importance of the pyramid.

Non-League Weston-super-Mare gave him a platform to develop on. So did Exeter, sending him on loan, as well as unleashing him in League Two before letting him fly high to Brentford, first in the Championship and the Premier League, and then on to Villa. 

He wandered briefly down memory lane in Dortmund. “I never thought I’d be playing in the Euros for England,” Watkins replied when asked about his dreams at Weston-super-Mare a decade ago.

“Obviously, you can dream but I’m a realist. I was focusing on getting back into the first team at Exeter. I put in a lot of hard work to get to this point. It’s not just this season, it’s cumulative.”

So a player made in the EFL, forged in the furnace of striving to survive and prosper, responded to his stunning goal with emotions coursing through him, his heat-map on fire as he raced around, celebrating with team-mates. He thought of all his mates who had sent him good luck messages during the day, telling him he would score. 

Watkins, usually back up to Harry Kane and Ivan Toney, has not complained and made an instant impact when he replaced the captain and top scoring striker

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Watkins, usually back up to Harry Kane and Ivan Toney, has not complained and made an instant impact when he replaced the captain and top scoring strikerCredit: Getty
This goal turned Watkins into a national hero and broke Dutch hearts

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This goal turned Watkins into a national hero and broke Dutch heartsCredit: Getty
The enormity of his actions sunk in at full-time when given the man of the match award

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The enormity of his actions sunk in at full-time when given the man of the match awardCredit: Getty

He’s given so much to make it to this level. Some players are blessed with such obvious talent from a young age that they enter Premier League academies early and have a straightforward pathway to the first team. Growing up in Torquay, Watkins was hardly blessed with elite development centres on his doorstep. But he never gave up his dream of making it. 

After the final whistle, having been presented with his Player of the Match trophy, the emotion really got to Watkins. He fell to his haunches, his left hand shielding eyes that had blinked with emotion, and his right hand resting on top of his trophy, almost to keep him upright. Kieran Trippier came over to congratulate and help him up. 

What a role model Watkins is. Southgate said afterwards the intensity that defined Watkins when he came on was how he trained every day at Blankenhain. “No matter how frustrated he’s been at not playing, he’s been ready,” the manager said.

All of Southgate’s players are like that, there’s an all-for-one mentality encouraged by the boss. But it must be trying for Watkins who is usually behind Ivan Toney as Harry Kane’s understudy. And yet Southgate, in an inspired decision, saw that there was space behind the Dutch defence to exploit with Watkins’ pace. 

He doesn’t often hold the ball up, preferring to play off the shoulder of the last defender and run in behind, but here Watkins demonstrated his persistence, turning his marker and shooting in. “I’ve worked hard to get to this point. And I’m going to enjoy every moment.”

The quiet man is now a big noise. 

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