meIn the shadow of Wembley Stadium, where Raheem Sterling raised his national hero status on Tuesday, his former school football coach was very emotional. “I couldn’t help but start to bounce back,” said Paul Lawrence, 61, a coach at Ark Elvin Academy at Wembley, where the Manchester City and England forward first revealed his star qualities as a 10-year-old.
“Last night I felt really excited. I watch it at home because I want to concentrate fully. Obviously, like any other fan, I will be carried away by the whole emotion of the game. But then the fact that Raheem scored again… It was the third goal in four games. And to see England perform like they did – it’s just amazing. A great game, great.”
Sterling scored the opener as England beat bitter rivals Germany 2-0 in the European Championship on Tuesday night. They play their next match, the quarter-final against Ukraine, in Rome on Saturday.
The 133-meter-high Wembley arch rises above this neighborhood. Sterling could see it and half of the 90,000-seat stadium from nearby Neeld Crescent, where he spent most of his childhood and from which he dreamed, he previously said, of becoming “the king of Wembley one day”.
It was a stone’s throw from the school, then called Copland community school, which he played in years 7 and 8, in his junior year, helping them reach two cup finals and claiming the man of the match award in one, where he scored a hat-trick.
Sterling was never “usual”, recalls Lawrence, who also coached him at QPR, where he was in the youth team. “He’s amazing. From day one I knew he was going to be a professional footballer. It’s all about him. He has skills. He’s really fast. He has the ability to hold off players much bigger than him. He handles tackles very well. And he can defend with sticks from people, like being kicked and thrown all over the place. He would just wake up, clean himself up and move on. I still see those qualities now.”
Sterling, 26, is very proud of his Wembley roots. “I’m from Wembley. I live in Wembley. I lived on a farm for a month until my mother found a place at Wembley. From eight to 14, I lived at Wembley,” he once said. He has a stadium tattoo on his arm.
Not far from his house there is a green field – still there – where he plays. “You get off the ground, you can look out into the street and you can see Wembley Stadium live,” said Lawrence.
Lawrence has coached at the school for 29 years, as well as at QPR, Chelsea, Fulham and Charlton Athletic. He said his current students see Sterling as an outstanding role model. “He is one of them. They all come from the same area, from the same background. They know he’s down to earth.”
Today Sterling lives in Cheshire with his fiancée, Paige Milian, and their sons, aged three and one. He also has a daughter from a previous relationship.
He took the time to return to Ark Elvin regularly. On one occasion he arranged for 500 tickets to be given to staff, students and parents for an FA Cup semi-final match at Wembley. On the other hand, he arrived straight from England’s friendly at Southampton, “and the shirt he wore for England, he took it off his back and gave it to us, and signed it, ‘To my favorite school in the world, Ark Academy Elvin,’” said Lawrence.
“I’m very proud of Raheem, seeing him perform at Wembley,” he added. “It’s almost like a backyard for him. I know he feels at home there. He felt comfortable there. And he always seems to put on really good performances there.”
And Lawrence has some wise advice for his former prodigy before the Ukraine game. “I would say, be more fearless. Be bolder. Be bold and get people to try and create opportunities. The more he invites people, the more it encourages other players to try.
“I think it would be easier to do that at Roma than at Wembley, because you don’t have a lot of fans yelling at you if you accidentally give the ball away.”