As football league fans will agree, it is a proud moment watching products of their clubs travel through the system and make names for themselves on the big stage.
It is a glorious thing, is it not? The journey of a small fish making it in a big pond. The likes of Jamie Vardy, Ian Wright and other such players making the huge leap from non-league to Premier League. The stories of those who had almost given up but made it at the last.
James Tarkowski is not one of these, but his story of success is romantic nonetheless.
In an age where scouting systems extend to the far reaches of the world and where gems are being unearthed from the favelas of Brazil to the professional grade park pitches of the Netherlands and beyond, it is refreshing to see a prospect rise from the old textile towns of England onto the biggest stage of them all.
Once upon a time, James Tarkowski was kicking about Oldham Athletic, living not 15 minutes from the ground – Boundary Park. After being dumped into a relegation battle by former manager Paul Dickov, Oldham handed youth development coach Tony Philliskirk the temporary responsibility of guiding the side to safety. And this appointment is where it all began.
Philliskirk knew all about Tarkowski having seen his through the early stages of his career. He had a place in his squad, as long as he was manager. He trusted him.
The faith he showed paid off, Oldham’s form drastically improved. The Englishman established himself in the side, scoring a vital winner in a victory away at Stevenage, kick-starting a journey that would take him to Wembley as a full England international years later.
“What Oldham Athletic gave James Tarkowski was an opportunity to develop, to make mistakes and learn by them,” Philliskirk says. “In the modern era it’s very easy to pick young players, then they make a mistake or two and it’s very easy to leave them out.”
The Englishman joined Brentford in 2014, a club renowned for making incredibly astute signings, where he spent two years before leaving to join Premier League side Burnley. Tarkowski initially found it difficult to break into the squad past Michael Keane, but when he made his big money move to Everton, the stage was set.
Tarkowski was a key member of Sean Dyce’s squad who reached Europe (yes, Burnley in Europe) after guiding the club into seventh place in the Premier League with the sixth best defensive record (39).
He was awarded his England debut by Gareth Southgate in March 2018 and found himself on the standby-list for the Russia World Cup. Not bad going.
Oldham fans, what are your standout memories of James Tarkowski? Join the discussion by commenting below…
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