England Under-21s take on the Netherlands in their latest match of UEFA European Championship qualifying at Carrow Road on Thursday (7.45pm).
Ahead of the match, we caught up with Head Coach Aidy Boothroyd, himself a former academy coach at Norwich City, to talk about his affinity with the city and Canaries as well as what fans can expect ahead of the latest Young Lions match.
You’re bringing your England U21 team to Norwich, which is a city that you’ve said will always be close to your heart?
Yes, my daughter Cerys was born there in 2003 and I had three-and-a-half brilliant years there under Nigel Worthington as manager and Delia and Michael as owners and I always love going back to Norwich. They always treat you really well, they’re brilliant people and the Club in general is one of those where if you spend too long there, you’d never leave, as it’s that nice. We loved living in Norfolk and working at the Club was one of the highlights of my career. I was the U19 coach and I only left because I got an opportunity for a role at West Bromwich Albion, which I decided to take. I had some great and enjoyable times and when your kids are born in places, you always have a bond and affinity with them.
In the time you spent at the Club, what were some of your favourite memories?
When I first joined, they were in the lower reaches of the Championship and Nigel did a brilliant job in getting them to the play-off final at Cardiff the year after, when we lost to Birmingham City on penalties. Over a period of time, the squad was strengthened and the Club was promoted the same year that West Brom were promoted as runners-up and both went into the Premier League. I’ve always followed their fortunes ever since.
Of course, it’s a Club you’ve had to visit quite a lot in recent years with a number of players from Norwich being involved in your England squads?
That’s right. I remember both of the Murphy boys, Jacob and Josh, came through there and both were involved in some of my earlier U19 and U20 squads. I remember watching Harrison Reed on loan from Southampton and then last year, we saw Angus Gunn and James Maddison playing for Norwich and James was exceptional before his move to Leicester this summer. So I’ve been a few times to keep an eye on players and have always enjoyed it and been well looked after.
There’s always been a strong support for England teams who have played at Carrow Road in the past and they have a good home support too. How important will that be on the night?
It’ll be very important, as there’s something on the game. Beating the Netherlands will help us towards qualification and as always, if the crowd is behind you and with you, it always helps the players on the pitch. I know from my experiences at Norwich, that it will be very positive and they’ll get behind us. It’s nice to be able to take the U21s around the country and to Norfolk and show the general public some of the stuff that’s happening in the development teams as well as what they’ve seen at senior level after this summer’s World Cup.
You come into the new campaign on the back of winning the Toulon Tournament in May and then going off to the World Cup with the seniors, so it’s fair to say you’ve had a busy summer?
Yes, it’s been one of those once-in-a-lifetime years really and hopefully that’s not the end of it. My summer was completely taken up by football, it was like a bus-man’s holiday for me. We managed to get the performances and results in Toulon that we wanted and then I had a day at home before flying out to Russia with the senior team. Gareth thought it was important that the U21 head coach should be the link between the development and senior squads so he invited me to go. I couldn’t turn an opportunity like that down so to be in every meeting, at every game and pretty much every training session at a World Cup from a ‘fly-on-the-wall’ perspective was a tremendous experience. It really is something that can spur us on to bigger and better things. It gave everybody a lift across the country, as well as those working around the England teams, to see what we’re doing is turning into some sort of fruition.
You took the U21s to the Euro semi-finals in Poland last year, so you know what a big tournament it is and the great experience it provides for young players and their development?
It’s a really good tournament, it’s the strongest teams in Europe coming together and it’s the next best thing for young players to go and feel what it’s like to play in these big stadiums and against really good players. You also have the media spotlight on it and it’s important for them to be able to deal with that and play with the freedom that we want them to do.
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