Taking a seat at a picnic table in the Staffordshire sunshine on Thursday afternoon, Jack Grealish apologises for being a little late.
One of the faces of what is threatening to be a glorious English football summer has been having an afternoon sleep.
‘I have one every day,’ he says. ‘I am not the same man without it.’
Jack Grealish is no longer just an England player, Aston Villa captain or even a Manchester City star in waiting
He is a member of a side that beat Germany and a player who helped make it happen
Saturday 03 July
Tuesday 06 July
It’s perhaps as well that Grealish has his routines because a part of his life has changed for good, whether he knows it yet or not.
The 25-year-old is no longer just an England player, Aston Villa captain or even a Manchester City star in waiting. Grealish is one of the ones who was there at Wembley on Tuesday night, one of the ones who made it happen, a member of the team who beat Germany on one of the most spectacular occasions the national stadium has witnessed.
Whatever happens to this England team now — whether they make it all the way to the final or whether their journey through Euro 2020 ends in Rome against Ukraine on Saturday night — they will always be remembered for one very special night at least.
‘It will probably be talked about for a while,’ says Grealish. ‘I’ve been lucky enough to play at Wembley seven times now including FA Cup finals and play-off finals and my family said it was the best atmosphere ever.
Grealish’s first act when returning to England’s base was to watch the victory again on the TV
‘I had loads of messages and it makes me so happy and proud when I hear the crowd singing my name. I want to repay that. It’s funny because I get booed every single week by these fans!
‘But here they are all giving me so much support and it’s one of the best feelings ever. It’s nice when Villa fans are doing it, but you kind of expect it because you are one of them. But when it’s England fans, it’s different.’
Grealish’s first act when returning to England’s base at St George’s Park in the early hours of Wednesday was to watch the victory over Germany again on the TV. ‘I didn’t get to sleep until 4am,’ he smiles. ‘So yeah, I just whacked the game on. Amazing, really. What a night.
‘What it means has filtered through. We knew that we were capable of doing that. I saw some people say it was an average Germany side. I don’t think it was at all. Now we have to focus on the next challenge.’
Grealish insists he has his game head on again but makes no apologies for enjoying the ride
Saturday’s quarter-final will be different. England’s first game on the road, it will be challenging in a variety of ways. Grealish insists he has his game head on but equally he makes no apologies for enjoying the ride. Were he not playing for England, he would in all likelihood be doing his best to get a ticket.
‘If I wasn’t a footballer and I was just with my mates, I would be doing what they’re doing,’ he says. ‘I’d be travelling everywhere watching England, being in pubs and stuff.
‘I’d f****** love that. I’ve seen a few videos and it looks unreal. At the end of the day, I’m just a normal kid.’
Each of Gareth Southgate’s players has their own story of how they got to this point.
Each of Gareth Southgate’s players has their own story of how they got to this point
Grealish’s began with a phone call from Roy Hodgson when he was 19 during which he decided to commit himself to England rather than the Republic of Ireland.
But his first cap didn’t arrive until September last year and his desperation to make this summer’s squad was such that he returned prematurely from a shin injury to figure in the last few games of Villa’s season.
‘I wasn’t meant to come back as quickly as I did but I felt I had to because everyone in my position was flying for England,’ says Grealish. ‘So I thought, ”I need to get back here and show I’m fit and back to my normal self”.
‘We have got six players who play either side of Harry Kane who, in reality, could play for most clubs in the world.
‘Myself, Jadon Sancho, Marcus Rashford, Raheem Sterling, Phil Foden and Bukayo Saka. That’s scary how good us six are. That’s not being big-headed or nothing. That is just the truth.’
Grealish’s began with a phone call with Roy Hodgson when he was 19 during which he decided to commit himself to England
It will be hot in Rome but Grealish is not particularly fazed. ‘It can’t be worse than the Croatia game at Wembley,’ he says.
‘It was like a sauna on that bench. We are excited and for me it’s always the same.
‘My dad is a plasterer. I don’t know if he’s any good or not but it’s what he has always done and this is what I have always done, for the whole of my life.
‘Just because it’s a bigger game or whatever, I don’t really change anything I do.
‘Just because more people are watching or it’s a bigger game, I don’t really let that get to me. I just do it as though it’s an Under 18 match or Villa game.
‘I love these different challenges, playing in different countries. I’ve never even been to Rome.’
Grealish says it is ‘scary’ how good the six players, including himself and Bukayo Saka, around Harry Kane are
It’s a reasonable attitude to have as England try to go deep into this tournament. For a player such as Grealish, there will always be a bigger world out there waiting to be explored. If he wasn’t playing football, for example, he says he would be quite happy being a nightclub promoter in Tenerife.
Equally, he is now one of a group of footballers whose names will be forever attached to one June night in London.
It feels a little like the significance of that hasn’t sunk in yet and why should it? There is another match — or two, or three — to be won.
This feels like a journey that should not really end here.