From playing football at his local community centre in Coventry to scoring on his international debut for England at Wembley, Callum Wilson has had quite the journey.
Growing up, Wilson played basketball and kickboxing but football was the sport where his form excelled. The coach at his community centre encouraged him to join a team after seeing his performance.
“Growing up was difficult at times but my upbringing has helped me a lot,” Wilson, 31, said.
“In football you will always have setbacks along the way and being able to handle them is key to whether you can carry on your journey and be a success.
“It is down to mental strength and my upbringing helped shape that for me.”
“Some of my childhood set me up for adversity that I faced in life, an injury to your knee is small in comparison but it can break some people."
In September 2015, Wilson suffered a torn Anterior Cruciate Ligament (ACL), an injury that is notoriously difficult to recover from. As he was recovering and starting to find his form again, he suffered the same injury 16 months later but this time in his left knee.
However, for Wilson having a tough childhood meant he was able to deal with the mental blow.
“Some of my childhood set me up for adversity that I faced in life, an injury to your knee is small in comparison but it can break some people.
“I dedicated everything to my rehab. After I did my ACL again everyone was writing me off but I thrive off of proving people wrong. As a footballer you always have people putting you down.
”Wilson’s resilience paid off. In September 2020 he signed for Newcastle and made a dream debut, scoring the first goal in a 2-0 away win against West Ham.
“I worked so hard to get to the Premier League. But getting there was one thing and remaining there was another. It was amazing to score on my debut.”
His success as Newcastle also caught Gareth Southgate’s eye as he recalls playing for England was a “surreal experience” but the journey was not straightforward.
After starting the season well, Wilson was out with injury for 6-8 weeks and was not announced in the first squad.
“It felt like the opportunity was slipping away,” he remembers.
“I knew when I came back I would have to hit the ground running and I scored a lot of goals in a short amount of time.”
Wilson was adamant that he would make it to the Qatar World Cup. When people would ask where he was going for his winter break he simply said: “I’ll be in Qatar.”
“It was perfect timing in the end and when I got the World Cup it was amazing for my family. Getting an assist on my debut too was unreal.
“One of my proudest moments of my career was scoring on my England debut against the United States at Wembley in 2018.”
Football for Wilson has been about more than just scoring goals, it’s been a transformative element in his life.
“Football changed my life. I’ve changed as a person since I started playing. I’m a footballer but also a role model to people in the community. I went from someone who was selfish to realising that people looked up to me and I asked myself how I wanted to be perceived in society and in the media.”
It’s these lessons that Wilson believes the world can learn from football too.
“It shows us that everybody is equal. It brings people together no matter what age, size or race they are. Even if there’s a language barrier between two communities you’re able to enjoy a game of football.
“If people could do that in all walks of life then the world would be a much better place because on a football field everyone is happy and enjoying it. It doesn’t matter if you’re Asian, white, Caribbean - football is for everyone.”
As a teenager, Wilson’s motivation for becoming a footballer was money but the lessons he has learnt on his journey has changed his perspective.
“Money doesn't make you happy. You still have your ups and downs and you’re still a normal person.
“In the end you have to enjoy the ride. As professional athletes we’re always looking for the next thing to achieve as opposed to looking at how far we’ve come. I’ve been playing for 13 years and it’s flown by so you need to enjoy the moments you’re on the journey.”
Football has also offered Wilson a wealth of friendships with a key figure in his life being Eddie Howe.
“I’ve known him for eight years and he’s very good at keeping me grounded. He’s a big influence in my life. Matt Ritchie is also a positive influence in my life and is always making me strive for more."
“It shows how in football you can form friendships that last forever.”