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Ollie Watkins: The English goalscorer’s friends react to the victory at the Euro 2024

Image source, Connor Riley-Lowe

Image description, Connor Riley-Lowe and Ollie Watkins have been friends since their youth

“It’s so hard for me to comprehend that my buddy is doing this – it’s just unbelievable what he’s accomplished.”

Riley-Lowe, captain of National League South side Truro City, played alongside Watkins in Exeter City’s academy as they rose through the ranks together.

“It’s really hard for me to understand. To me he’s really just a boy from Newton Abbot,” he told BBC Radio Cornwall the morning after England’s 2-1 victory over the Netherlands in Dortmund.

  • Author, Brent Pilnick
  • Role, BBC Sport UK

“I’m a little used to it given his career at Aston Villa, but this is really a whole new level.”

Riley-Lowe played 14 times for Exeter before moving into amateur football and becoming a PE teacher.

The pair played together nine times for Exeter City, including a famous EFL Cup victory over Watkins’ future employers Brentford in August 2016.

“I managed to speak to him via Facetime last night just before he got back on the plane to fly back to camp,” Riley-Lowe said.

“It was a really beautiful moment. It was quite emotional, but it was incredible.

“The first thing he said was, ‘I knew I was going to score.’

“He said, ‘I’ve had a feeling like that all day’, and I don’t know if you saw his post-game interview. He said to Cole Palmer, ‘I’m going to score a goal and you’re going to set me up’.

“That describes him really well. He’s just so confident that even though he hasn’t played that big a role in this tournament, he thinks like that all day long, that describes his attitude.”

video subtitles, Watkins scores late winning goal for England

Watkins’ rise was not only good for Exeter’s reputation, but also for their bank account.

The Grecians sold him to Brentford for £1.8m in 2017, and when he moved to Aston Villa for £28m, they earned a further £4m through a sell-on clause and another £750,000 in performance-related benefits.

But he also created some memories that Exeter City fans will cherish forever.

“I was in the old stand when he scored against Plymouth and I just think it was a great moment,” Nick Hawker, chairman of the Exeter City Supporters’ Trust, told BBC Radio Devon.

“Not only was it a fantastic goal, but when you score a goal against your arch rivals it’s something very special.”

“I remember at the time we were trying to raise money for the academy and one of the phrases I used to say when I went around asking people for money was: ‘We train good people, not just good footballers.’

“I think the work ethic that we hopefully instilled in Ollie will stay, and if that continues, there will be more Ollies in the future.”

Image source, Rex Features

Image description, Ollie Watkins made his debut for Exeter City in May 2014 at the age of 18 and scored 28 goals in 99 appearances for the club.

Watkins “always asked how he could get better”

Watkins’ first club was Buckland Athletic – a team whose first team currently plays in the ninth tier of the Western Premier League.

But even 20 years later, Watkins is still fondly remembered by the people who first introduced him to the game.

“He comes from a really, really lovely family, which was evident last night when he saw his mother, mingled with the crowd and gave her a big kiss and a hug,” said Buckland co-chair Nigel Holmes.

“The coaches who worked directly with him said he was very respectful and willing to learn.

“He has done extra training with the coaches and when you talk to them, they have nothing but praise for him.

“He always asked, ‘What can I do to become a better player?’

“This shows that all the hours our volunteer coaches put in at grassroots level are simply worth it for them.”

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