England has a squad packed full of young stars. This summer, led by national treasure Gareth Southgate, the Three Lions reached their first major final in 55 years and came within a penalty shootout of winning Euro 2020. We caught up with the life and soul of the backroom staff, England kitmen Pat Frost and Neil Jones, to find out what life was like inside the camp.
“For me, Russia was outstanding but this took it to another level,” Frost says. “We were away for 47 days, but it never ever felt like that. It just went so quick and it was an absolutely brilliant experience. We are footy fans as well of course so that makes it even better for us. Because if we weren't working at the games, I'd be trying to get tickets!”
Frost has worked in the England set-up since 2004, and went to South Africa and Brazil as an assistant, but got this job ahead of that World Cup in 2018. However, the team unity amongst the players and staff has been something that has impressed him under Southgate.
“The main aim was to win this tournament. Gareth has got this knack, he is just one of those blokes who can get everyone onside. Everyone is pulling in the right direction and there is one aim and one goal, that was to win the tournament. The next aim now will be to win in Qatar, simple as that.”
The memories of this camp are still fresh in the minds of the duo, so which England player do they find the funniest?
“I always find Jordan Pickford funny,” Jones, also with England since 2018, laughs. “His observational skills are unbelievable. He doesn't miss a trick, he knows everybody's name, he will know your family's names, he will know what your hobbies are and everything. Pickford, for his observational stuff, makes me laugh the most.
“Jordan doesn't miss a trick by the way,” Frost agrees. “He said ' I gave you some gloves five years ago, what have you done with them, have you still got them?' - he doesn't miss anything like that, so I'd agree with Neil. Although Sam Johnstone's been quite funny on this trip because I've been asking him to sign a new deal for Albion and stuff like that, you know, he was trying to ignore me at the end of the trip. He'd had enough! Got nowhere at all.”
As a West Bromwich Albion season ticket holder, Frost enjoyed some friendly banter with Aston Villa’s Jack Grealish. “Listen, Jack is a great bloke to have around by the way,” he says. “He gives me a little bit of stick and I give him just as much, if not more, possibly... It was one of those. He sings anti-Albion songs and I sing anti-Villa songs and it is all good natured stuff.’
During the tournament, the pair were lucky enough to have an inside view of the squad and were privy to some moments they will never forget.
“One of the games, I can't remember which one it was, Harry [Maguire] had obviously been doing press,” Frost explains. “When he came in the rest of the squad burst into his song that the fans sing - and the staff joined in as well. It's little things like that.”
“He took that well as well, I'm not sure how he perceives that song, he seemed to enjoy it!” Jones adds.
It wasn’t just the post-match celebrations that brought a smile to their face. Captain Harry Kane delivered a speech in the dressing room before the 2-0 win over Germany that was truly a moment to remember.
“There is always a huddle, the last thing they do before they go out, there is a huddle,” Frost says. “The game against Germany, Harry spoke for probably only 20 seconds, it would have seemed a lot longer at the time. He spoke and he just spoke so passionately I just thought, 'we can't lose this game' and we didn't as it happens.
“Things like that, you know when you are a fan and you are just privileged to be on the inside and experiencing that. We know we are very lucky in what we do, and there are 30 million people who want to step in our shoes straight away.
“That huddle that Pat is on about, that isn't just the players and the coaches - that is to a man or woman in that dressing room, we are all part of it,” Jones continues. “We are all in this together. Literally, even if there is not enough space, they are trying to squeeze everyone in to make sure everybody is in this huddle, because it is all of us, we are all in it together.”
Unfortunately for the Three Lions, and the entire staff, England’s dream of winning their first European Championships came to an end in the most heartbreaking fashion.
“I'm a sore loser anyway so it affects me just as much as it would affect Harry Kane and I'm guessing that he would say the same,” Frost says. “He knows the staff, everyone wanted to win, they were desperate and do you know what, we probably thought we were going to win it.”
Jones concurs. “I don't even know if it has sunk in yet how close we were really. I don't know whether we were closer being 1-0 up after 60 odd minutes or whether we were closer knowing we had three penalties to go to win.
“We are all disappointed all the same, from any player to us backroom staff. The amount of positives we can take out of the tournament are amazing really, because we never dreamt we would have got to the final like we did.”
Although both kitmen would love to be in Qatar in 2022, their place on the plane is not guaranteed, as Frost explains. “We worry about selection as much as the players, don't worry about that. We always treat our last camp as if it is our last camp. You have to make sure you can't drop your guard, you are at the high end of the industry, if me and Neil cock up, if we forget the match kit, you are making the front of the papers. You are not getting a little clip on the radio, you are in the papers.
“Hopefully, we will get selected for the three games in September. I'm still worried about getting selected for that, never mind Qatar in 18 months. I want to make sure I'm on the next camp.”
With the performance of the whole team exceeding all expectations and following on from the World Cup semi-final, it is unlikely that the FA and Southgate will want to change much heading into the next tournament. Luckily for them, as Jones explains, England’s young squad should remain intact.
“We were talking in the van on the way home. Is there anyone we are not going to see again? The answer is no, they are all going to be there next time. It is such a young team, these are starting, they are not coming to the end.
“I'd suggest anyone who is part of this Euros is still gonna be part of, or in contention, for the World Cup in Qatar. There is nobody who is close to retiring or anything like that. That is what we have to remember. You look at Italy, they were a lot older than us I would say, just look at their two centre-halves. We are a young team so onwards and upwards.”