Making my International DebutDalton Harris
I was first scouted to several training camps in Wales when playing for Nottingham Forest at the back end of the U15 season.
This was a huge moment for me as I had always dreamt of playing for my country and I now had the opportunity! The training camp consisted of a 7 day camp with around 50/60 school boys training, living and playing against each other throughout the week. This taught me a lot of how to look after my body each day to make sure I was in peak condition to train at maximum performance the following day, enabling me to stand out!
The first training camp was in Cardiff, where I met young school boys from clubs such as; Cardiff, Swansea, Manchester United, Arsenal and we shared experiences and helped each other through. It was fascinating as it was the first time I really got the chance to mix with players from other clubs. Even at the age of 15, players had agents and had boots contracts that I had never heard of.
The set up was incredible, we had a team doctor, physio and were looked after in terms of our rest and recovery. Often we slept with a heart rate monitor on so that the coaches could understand how hard we had worked and therefore tailored our training the following day to make sure we weren’t over worked.
This was combined with filming of training sessions and matches, then sitting one by one with the coaches and they would analyse your football intelligence and tactical awareness with your movements on the pitch, this was extremely beneficial as it allowed me to understand what they were looking for and how I could improve my game.
This occurred many times, before the squad for the first games were selected. I was lucky enough to make the squad, receiving a letter of confirmation that I had been selected to play against Belgium and Switzerland in Switzerland. This resulted in a week and a half out of school, which again piled pressure on my academic studies.
We met in Cardiff and got the team coach to Heathrow in tracksuits, where we signed autographs for spectators in the airport before landing in Switzerland and beginning our preparation for the first game. I was lucky enough to start where I felt I had played well. There really is nothing comparable to representing your country and bellowing out the national anthem whilst your family watches you. This was followed 4 days later with a game against Belgium, where I had started on the bench after rotating the players, again I came on with 30 minutes to play and almost assisted a goal.
After the games we all were made to have ice baths and with recovery drinks. We received sports massages the day after and afterwards my legs felt amazing. As a reward for playing well, the coaches took us out the hotel for a walk and experience a little bit of Switzerland for the day before flying home.
The second tournament I had played in, was the Tri Nations which consists of Nothern Ireland, Wales and Scotland. This was played in Cardiff and had much of the same format as the tournament in Switzerland, I was fortunate to play well again and score a couple of goals throughout the tournament.
The largest game of the international season for the Wales U16 team was to get the call up for the squads in the Victory Shield. This is televised on Sky and is a tournament between England, Wales, Scotland and Ireland. A fantastic tournament in which I was lucky enough to be selected. The game was played at Yeovil Town’s stadium in front of a full crowd. The training camp took place in Cardiff before we travelled to Yeovil Town. During the training camp, I was lucky enough that Ian Rush, the legendary Wales and Liverpool striker was coaching the strikers before that tournament and I was able to meet him.
We had the pre-game meeting, where the coaches had compiled videos of us training and playing together and turned it into a motivational video which got us all fired up before the England game! This was followed by the announcement of the starting line-up, which I was disappointed to find out I would start on the bench. Nonetheless, we had the pre-game meal together as a squad before arriving at the stadium to be greeted with fans and sky sports cameras. It really felt like we’d made it.
After being interviewed by Sky TV, we then proceeded into the changing room where our kit was laid out dropping off our boots before looking at the pitch. The stadium was only half full by then, but the buzz and atmosphere was almost overwhelming, with the stadium capacity at 3293 We warmed up and inbetween when we had a drinks break, we had fans leaning over the barriers asking for photographs and autographs. Unfortunately we went on to lose the match and I didn’t play myself.
It was heart-breaking. Knowing that I could’ve made a difference and I’d worked so hard and committed myself and sacrificed plenty in order to get there. I felt like that was one of the lowest points in my football career. After that, I was never called up to anymore U16 squads and wasn’t included in the next couple of Victory Shield games.