Dominic Calvert-Lewin: “With Rom leaving I knew there was going to be an opportunity... now it's down to me”
Dominic Calvert-Lewin takes a rare pause, giving his mind’s eye time to access the South Korea 2017 album. The corners of his mouth pull back, tugging his lips away from his teeth to reveal a smile. “There’s a few moments in my career that I’ve had so far that I could describe as unbelievable, and that would be one of them,” he says emphatically.
Yes, there have been plenty of ‘unbelievable moments’ for the youngster to celebrate in his embryonic career – playing for his boyhood team Sheffield United, signing for Everton and scoring in the Premier League are to name but a few – but hitting the winner in a World Cup final will take some beating.
“Cookie (Lewis Cook) had a deep free-kick and I was just screaming at him, ‘Just kick it in behind’ because their (Venezuela) backline was so high,” explains the Everton forward.
“I gambled with the header and it bounced down nicely for me – I had a shot and the keeper parried it. Everything just went in slow motion as I followed it in. The ball was bouncing and I was thinking, ‘It’s on your left foot, focus on the contact and just make sure you hit the target.’”
He did, striking the ball under Wuilker Faríñez to score the decisive goal against Venezuela in June’s Under-20 World Cup final in Suwon – giving England their most significant international title since 1966.
“I remember wheeling off to the corner flag again and all the boys jumping on my back,” he recalls with a smile. “I did about five celebrations in one as I ran off, but that goal meant a lot because it proved to me that I can compete at that level.”
Almost six months have passed since Calvert-Lewin made Three Lions history; now it’s time to show he has what it takes to deliver match-winning performances at Premier League level.
Under new Everton boss Sam Allardyce, a manager with a liking for tall, sinewy strikers who lead the line, he'll be given the chance to prove that there’s no need to splash out on someone to fill the Romelu Lukaku shaped-hole in their attack.
That’s not easy, of course, but Calvert-Lewin has stood up to every challenge he’s faced on the pitch with grit and guile; whether engaging in close-quarter combat on the streets of Sheffield or taking hits in the non-league roughhouse.
Growing up in Hillsborough, Sheffield Wednesday heartland, he went against the grain by supporting crosstown enemy United, and relished the battles his club allegiance and innate talent would stir in the ultimate proving ground of a modern footballer: the cage.
“As a kid I would go to Hillsborough Park and play football with my mates,” he tells FFT. “There was a concrete pitch with a cage and me and my mates would go there to play older kids, but we were decent so we’d always give them a good game.
“I remember getting smashed in the mouth a few times, but that was a time when you’d try your tricks and get a ‘Wow!’ from someone watching.
“When I first went up to secondary school, we would play against lads three years above us and I had a tooth knocked out during one game in the playground.”
Struggle of self-doubt
As with any topic Calvert-Lewin discusses, he does it with confidence and candour – a symptom of his adolescence. Senior pros, wary of providing a journalist with an assist for a sensationalist headline, usually park the bus. He, instead, chooses to flood forward. And it’s a joy to listen to.
The 20-year-old is not using this as an opportunity to boast about his machismo, more reliving the fond childhood memories that helped shape him as a footballer. Not all of these memories are positive, but they are no less important. In another refreshing show of honesty, he discusses his battle with nerves.
Insecurity – an emotion we civilians don’t expect uber-confident Premier League footballers to experience – has brought on tears, sickness and self-doubt. But even as a child, he showed the courage to overcome his fears and let his love for the game jolt his feet into action.
“I remember being really nervous playing football as a kid, having butterflies before the game, probably more than I do now,” he admits. “When you played as a kid, that’s when you had the least amount of pressure. As soon as the first whistle went I was nervous, but then I’d get my first touch and I’d play with freedom, enjoying the game like I do now.”
Nerves manifested themselves in shyness – a shyness that almost kept him under the radar of local scouts.
“Being nervous held me back,” admits Calvert-Lewin. “My dad took me to play for an under-sixes team and all the other kids were chasing the ball around.
“My dad said, ’Go on, get yourself off!” and I just jogged around on the outskirts not really wanting to get involved. I just started crying and turned to my dad. He said, ‘Come on, let’s go.’
“A year later I joined under-sevens at Handsworth Boys and remember playing in a national tournament at Butlins, in Skegness. The first day we were there I was sick in the middle of the night because I was that nervous to play. I scored four the next day.
“I continued to score goals for Handsworth and was training one Saturday when a Sheffield United academy coach walked over and said, ‘Is your name Dominic?’ I was like, ‘Yeah.’ He said, ‘Come with me.’
“That coach was Scott Sellars and that was it. I signed for Sheffield United.”
Inspired by academy graduates Kyle Walker and Kyle Naughton, who were impressing in the Championship, Calvert-Lewin progressed through the youth team ranks as a central midfielder, desperately chasing his dream.
With no clear pathway into the senior side, his coach made a decision that would change the course of Calvert-Lewin’s career.
“There were a lot of central midfielders in the first team at the time,” explains the boyhood Blade. “I’d played central midfield all my life and but my coach said, ‘You’re big, tall, fast, good on the ball and you can score goals so we’re going to try you up top.’”
“I scored a few goals for the under-18s and then he came to me and said, ‘We’ve sorted you a one-month loan over Christmas  at Stalybridge in the Conference North – that’s the highest level we can get you at this moment in time.’ So I said, ‘Yeah, fine.’”
Unglamorous, rough and full of non-league players with a chip on their shoulder, this level of football would test the 17-year-old’s mettle.
Two days after signing he scored twice on his debut, in a 4–2 win at Hyde United. At the beginning of February 2015 he returned to his parent club with six goals in five appearances, a few bumps and bruises and another valuable learning experience under his belt.
“I got smashed in the face in the first 20 minutes of my debut and cut my eye,” he remembers with another irrepressible smile. “I was learning my craft – just like I am now. Because you play on terrible pitches the football isn’t really played out from the back – it’s more boot it up the pitch, spin it in behind and chase it.
“Playing competitive men’s football, with fans cheering for the team and putting myself in positions of stress at a young age, was vital. I didn’t know it at the time, but it was the most beneficial thing I could have done for myself. It seems crucial in getting me where I am now.”