Jarrod Bowen sat in his dad’s battered old truck, the one with its wheels falling off, held together by memories. The one now filling with tears.
It was in that old truck that Sam Bowen once drove his young lad to matches around Hereford. And it was in that old truck, back in May, that father and son sat together soaking in the news that Jarrod Bowen was in the England squad.
‘He was crying his eyes out,’ says West Ham winger Bowen. ‘He was saying, “I can’t believe it, this is the truck we used to go to local games in. Look at you now, you’ve just been called up by England. I can’t take my hat off to you enough.”
‘He said he didn’t think I would make an England squad this early. Seven years is a long time, but when you look at where I’ve come from, from playing for Hereford in the Conference, them being expelled and me going to Hull. Fast forward five or six years. He goes, “I just can’t believe it”. It was an emotional moment, I had to step outside for a moment.’
Bowen’s call-up was reward for a stunning season for West Ham in which his 12 goals and 10 assists were the most of any English midfielder in the Premier League. He knows he will need to start this season just as strongly, beginning today against Manchester City, if he is to keep his place for the World Cup in Qatar.
The official squad announcement in May came at 2pm. Bowen found out in morning and told his dad over the phone a couple hours later, unable to keep him in suspense any longer as Bowen, his girlfriend, his brother, friend and sister all went for lunch at The Flying Dutchman cafe in Leominster. Each time he tried, the conversation lasted mere seconds.
‘I rang and told him and he just said: “I’ll speak to you later.” I could tell he was just in bits. He did it about five times. He kept answering the phone and going “Hello?” As soon as I asked him if he was all right, soon as I said alright, he just went…’
But it was not just Bowen’s dad struggling to keep emotions in check. ‘There were people in the little café looking round wondering what this lot at are going through. Everyone was crying. I couldn’t eat, I felt so sick. My brother walked out the restaurant when I told him. There were tears everywhere.’
That’s how much it meant to the family from a small market town in Herefordshire. What would it be like, then, if he goes to the World Cup?
‘Pfft, I don’t know. Where we’re from, it’s a real small community. To be a role model for people back home playing football, people I’ve never spoken to before saying “We’re so proud of you, our little boys love you”. That’s what it means to me, to make a difference to people back home.’
Bowen made his England started the 1-0 defeat in Hungary and featured in all four fixtures over the summer. ‘The first time putting the shirt on was special,’ says Bowen. ‘And having the opportunity to play as well. It was my first squad. I knew a few of the lads, of course Dec (Declan Rice) and a couple of others. You’re like a new kid at school, don’t know what’s going on and getting used to your surroundings. That first time putting shirt on was a really proud moment.’
He did not experience victory in an England shirt but he’s come back to West Ham this season with his chest out and his confidence high. It’s exposed him to some extra dressing-room banter, mind.
‘Me and Dec were talking and the lads were like “Oo watch out, it’s the England boys together!”,’ he laughs. ‘But they were all buzzing for me.’
But with it all comes higher expectation. You can even see that, he says, from his fantasy football price going up. ‘My barber told me I’ve gone up £2million so that’s a big pressure in itself! I haven’t chosen myself in my team, that’s for sure.
‘Last season was a proper step up for me so this season is another step up doing all the same again. The way I challenge myself, I want to be on the next level and keep going because there is still more to come.’
Not just for him, for West Ham too. He wants to keep aiming for that top six and to reach finals in domestic trophies and in Europe.
Bowen calls the next three months ‘massive’ with the World Cup swelling into view. ‘Being in that squad made me want everything 10 times more. I want to be in the squad in September and then the World Cup. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t thinking about the World Cup.
‘This season is about progressing even more. It’s about not taking your foot off the gas. Every step is forwards. Keep breaking down those barriers and aiming for the stars.
‘It comes down to the person I am, my motivation and working through barriers and kicking down everything in my way to get to where I want to get to. I can say I’ve done that, coming from the Conference, not having a club, the love and the passion to keep going and going and things do fall into place.’