x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

Andrew Cole: I'm proud to see son play for England

Our columnist shed a tear when Devante was selected for the national schoolboy team – but knows he has a long way to go.

Andrew Cole with Devante, right, and daughter Faith, after winning Worthington Cup in 2002.
Andrew Cole with Devante, right, and daughter Faith, after winning Worthington Cup in 2002.

I am not embarrassed to say that I shed a tear when my son, Devante, was called up for England Schoolboys.

I played for England at Under 16 level myself and can remember how excited I was, so I could see why he was buzzing.

Devante was picked to start for England against Northern Ireland last night and I was in Belfast with my family to watch him make his debut.

We have all supported him along the way and this feels like a reward, but he has still got a long, long way to go if he is going to be a professional footballer.

The vast majority of the lads I played with for England Schoolboys did not go on to make a living from football. That is the greatest warning that I can give him.

Devante was not even interested in football when he was a little boy. And when he was interested he always wanted to play in goal.

I never put any pressure on him to be a footballer. It did not bother me, so as long as he enjoyed playing and was happy in his life.

His upbringing was different to mine. I grew up in a tough inner-city area of Nottingham, where crime was high. I was a failure at school and regret not working harder. All I wanted to do was play football with my mates.

Football ended up giving me a great life where I made enough money to put our two children through private education. We wanted them to be well-educated, so that they had more choices when they got older.

I have had to have strong words with Devante on several occasions because he has not been working hard enough at school. I have told him that school has to come before football. Sometimes the message gets through.

Devante decided that he wanted to be a striker when he was six. Manchester City spotted him when he was seven and he has been there ever since. They have looked after him and he is happy.

Manchester United once asked me about him and I took Devante down to Carrington, the United training facility. He did not like it and it was not for me to force my son into a situation. He stayed where he was happy.

We had to take him to training twice a week and that could be a strain on the family. Now, City have the resources to pay for taxis for young players.

That helps us, because when I played down south for Portsmouth and Fulham, my family stayed in Manchester and my wife (who is not interested in football) used to take Devante and wait two hours in all weathers for him to finish training.

It was not easy, but I am also aware that there were some kids whose parents did not even have cars, aware that while we can afford to be in Belfast now staying in a nice hotel, there are other parents who would love to be here and cannot afford it.

I watched Devante all the time, even when I was playing. I would catch a morning game and then drive to Blackburn Rovers or Manchester City. My kids are a priority and I wanted to support him.

I did not stand on the sidelines ranting and raving like some parents, nor did I live my life through my kids. Devante was there to be taught by professional coaches and I put my trust in them.

Sometimes in the car on the way home he would ask me about the game he had just played and I would give him a word or two of advice. I would tell him that he needed to be louder on the pitch because he could be as quiet as a mouse.

I think he listened, though he has to listen a lot more if he is going to make it because he is still very raw. Thankfully though, he is blessed with lightning speed - and that can take you far in football.

There was more pressure on Devante because of me. People expected him to be just like me on a football field, but he shows just as many sides of my wife's personality as mine. You can't do anything about people saying: "that's Andy Cole's son."

It was not like they were being nasty, but it meant Devante was always watched closely from the sides and on the pitch. Maybe that will make him a better player. He went for the England Schoolboy trials a few months ago and did well. So he was then devastated not to be called up. I told him not to worry, that opportunities would come, but I don't think he believed me. Then he was called into the squad for this game.

And late yesterday he was told he was in the team for his England debut, which was brilliant.

He has already done well and it is an achievement for him to represent his country.

If this is the start of a great career, then wonderful. If it is not then I will support both my children in whatever they want to do.

Andrew Cole is the second-leading goalscorer in Premier League history. His column is written with the assistance of European football correspondent Andy Mitten.

sports@thenational.ae