England Under-19s’ Euros bid aided by talent from outside elite clubs
The England Under-19s team that will compete for the European Championship crown is packed with exhilarating talent from Jamie Bynoe-Gittens, Borussia Dortmund’s 17-year-old winger and the youngest player in the squad, to Samuel Iling-Junior, a forward on the books of Juventus, but none have made more league starts than the 18-year-old Alex Scott, a fixture for Bristol City in the Championship last season. Scott, a punchy and deceptively robust midfielder, represents something of an outlier given that only he, Ronnie Edwards of Peterborough and Daniel Jebbison of Sheffield United are contracted to a club outside the top tiers.
Scott, whose leaping header against Italy on Tuesday helped England into Friday’s final against Israel in Slovakia, joined City at 16 from his hometown club Guernsey FC, where he became the eighth-tier team’s youngest-ever player. Guernsey’s manager, Tony Vance, alerted Brian Tinnion, now Bristol City’s academy director, and Scott was handed a trial, in which he scored the perfect hat-trick in a friendly at Yate Town. He has since effectively been fast-tracked through the Under-18s and Under-23s and into the first team last August.
Scott has starred at wing-back, in midfield and as part of a front three for his club and in a multitude of midfield positions for England at this tournament. The consensus seems to be that Scott will end up as a No 8 or No 10 and the fact that he quickly assumed free-kick duties at City says everything about his standing among his usually more experienced peers. “If I bump into him on a Monday after a game and say: ‘I thought you did this well, I thought you did that,’ he’ll say: ‘I could’ve done this better and this better,’” Tinnion says. “He’ll analyse everything. He’s a bright footballer. He’ll know every bit of the game he has to improve but he can go to the very top.”
Perhaps it should be no surprise that Scott thrived given he was flying to away games in the Isthmian League Division One South East with Guernsey as a schoolboy. After being released by Southampton aged 12 and having a brief spell with Bournemouth, Scott played for his local youth side, St Martins, until eligible for men’s football.
Vance recalls Scott’s debut against Phoenix Sports, in Kent, before a crowd of 55. “He had literally just turned 16 and we put him on as a substitute in a No 10 role. They had this stocky, classic non-league defensive midfielder who rolled up his sleeves and thought: ‘I’m having you.’ He gave Alex a little shove, Alex just ignored him and this bloke kept trying to put him off, trying to get at him off the ball. When Alex first got the ball, he rode past him, drifted away, shifted the ball on and two minutes later that defensive midfielder passed him on for somebody else [to mark].”
Scott, whose half-sister is the Brighton Women defender Maya Le Tissier, has not forgotten his roots. In the buildup to May’s Muratti Vase final, an annual match between teams representing the Channel Islands, he joined his former Guernsey teammates at training to keep himself ticking over and supporters on the ferry to Jersey before watching from behind the goal. A couple of Scott’s former clubmates, Ben Acey, with whom he played at Southampton, and Tim Ap Sion, hope to follow in his footsteps after signing for City last month, the former joining the Under-23s, the latter the Under-18s.
Edwards is another youngster who belies his years, with Peterborough’s director of football, Barry Fry, adamant the 19-year-old has the potential to be a future England captain. Edwards signed for Peterborough two years ago from Barnet after impressing then-manager Darren Ferguson 20 minutes into a trial. Edwards, like Scott, has handled compliments galore. The same applies to Jebbison, who lived in Canada until the age of 13. The striker scored on his full Premier League debut for Sheffield United last year and got seven goals on loan at Burton Albion last season.
The Manchester City centre-back Callum Doyle, who made 33 starts for Sunderland on loan in League One, and the Arsenal right-back Brooke Norton-Cuffy, who made 17 appearances, including 13 starts, on loan at Lincoln in the same division, are the players with Scott, Edwards and Jebbison who got the most league minutes last season. Dane Scarlett and Liam Delap, highly regarded by their clubs Tottenham and Manchester City respectively, made a sole league appearance off the bench.
Fry says Ferguson, son of Sir Alex, recommended Edwards to Manchester United after a couple of Championship matches and the centre-back is being tracked by most Premier League clubs as well as by teams in Germany and Italy. “He’s a leader,” Fry says. “He’s Mr Cool, so calm, collected and, for a young boy, he talks. That was what impressed me even at Barnet – he told people what to do. His weight of pass is fantastic. We had Ben White [on loan] from Brighton for six months [in 2019] and I said when Ben came in that he would play for England one day and everybody laughed. Ronnie has got more potential than him – he is unbelievable for 19 years old.”
Talented reserves are perhaps nothing new but the anomalies are among the most exciting of this bunch. Guernsey, which has a population of about 63,000, will be among those watching England’s final with interest. Scott, Tinnion says, is usually the first player the Bristol City owner, Steve Lansdown, who lives in Guernsey, asks after, and the club have gained thousands more followers as a result of the teenager’s striking breakthrough. “They love him in Guernsey,” Tinnion says. “Guernsey is only a small place but they’re producing some footballers, I know that. I think the whole of the island will be tuned in and cheering him on on Friday.”