I grew up in Farnham, Surrey, spending most of my time with Sparks playing one sport or another. Possibly the most popular hangout was a field close to our house, where in school holidays you’d be likely to find us morning, noon, or night. Most of the time we’d generally be kicking a ball about – essentially training, but it would never feel like it, it was just fun, exactly how training should be.
Sparks and I have always got on well, partly because we never compete against each other. Neither of us could bear to lose to the other, so we don’t even try. It’s just as well we’ve always played on the same teams. Even before Newcastle Falcons, we played together as juniors at Farnham Rugby Club in Surrey – another place I spent hours. Dad got me and Sparks into Rugby from an early age, having been a keen player himself.
I’ve actually got a lot to thanks Sparks for. The hours he spent kicking balls back to me must have been soul destroying at times. There were actually a number of instances where Sparks was sent out to find me in exactly the same place he’d left me hours previously – kicking.
I sometimes go back to these places when I’m with the England team. England camp takes place at Pennyhill Hotel, just down the road from the old haunts. On the odd afternoon or day we have off I’ll escape to various places in the area and reminisce.