Alex Gilliead

By Dan King - Newcastle United Club Reporter

Magpies youngster Alex Gilliead has spoken exclusively to after returning from the Montaigu Tournament with the England under-16 team.

The Young Lions reached the semi-finals of the competition in France, which was in its 40th year, before losing to Russia on penalties, with the Newcastle striker playing in three of the four games.

Gilliead, who had played once before for his country, in last October's 4-0 Victory Shield win over Wales, turned 16 last month and has recently made his debut for the club's under-18 and Reserve sides.

He received a late call-up to Kenny Swain's squad in place of Derby's Mason Bennett, having initially been on standby for the trip, and reported back to the club's Little Benton Academy on Thursday.

England eventually came third in the tournament after beating the hosts 1-0 in a third-fourth place play-off and Gilliead recalled: "I found out that I'd been called up on the Tuesday before we went.

"We were in the classroom at the Academy and Jimmy Nelson (Head of Education and Welfare) came in and told me that I'd been picked to go.

"I went home and told my mam, who started sorting out the flights to come and watch, and I was dead happy but I didn't get too carried away, because it was only my second time going away with England.

"My mam and my grandma came out. They were meant to be coming out on the Tuesday when we played Japan, but the flight got cancelled. They came on Thursday when we played Morocco, so they got there for the game I started. They just turned up in time as we were singing the national anthems.

"It was good because it's like you're a first-team player. You walk out with the little kids who are mascots, then you stand and sing the national anthems and even though we were all from different places, all the team were together signing the national anthem. You do feel good about yourself and get confidence from it."

Gilliead was an unused substitute in the opening game, a 1-1 draw with Japan but recalled: "Callum (Jones), my room-mate, scored. He's from West Brom and he's a good lad.

"They scored with two minutes to go and then we scored in the last minute. We thought we should have won because we were the better team - but Japan were good. They were like Barcelona, the way they passed the ball around, but we had more chances, hit the bar and had two one-on-ones so we should have won.

"Even though I didn't get on, I knew I'd get on sooner or later. I was disappointed but I wasn't too bothered. There were three lads who didn't get on and we all started the next game against Morocco.

"The coaches said I played well and I felt good about myself. I felt like I played well. I played for 75 minutes (of the 80 minute match) - I got cramp because I was playing on the wing and I was running backwards and forwards, helping the right-back.

"I thought we should have won more than 1-0. We had more chances to score, but it was a win anyway and my second cap."

The St. Bede's Catholic School pupil then made his second start of the competition - and won his third cap overall - in the next match... but missed from the spot in the decisive shoot-out.

"We played Russia in the semi-final and we battered them but it was just one of those things," he said. "It finished 2-2 and went to penalties.

"We'd been practising all week, and we'd taken four each in training. I'd scored all four. I was the third person to take one in the shoot-out but I missed mine. There was me, Max Clark from Hull and Bryn Morris from Middlesbrough who missed.

"We were all disappointed but we hadn't beaten in an 80-minute match and we just had to pick ourselves up for the France game."

And they did exactly that, winning 1-0 despite being reduced to ten men, with Gilliead playing his part in a resolute defensive display in the closing stages.

Summing up his England adventure, the teenager explained how he had benefitted from several new experiences - and some not-so-new.

"It was great just being away with England and being with different people, and playing the style of football we play as well," he said. "You grow in confidence, and it's a different environment.

"But although it was sunny every day we played, it rained the rest of the time - so it was just like English weather!"