After making his England U20 debut against the Netherlands on Thursday evening, Luke Thomas spoke of his pride at representing his country.
The Barnsley forward came on as an 80th minute substitute – replacing Sky Bet Championship rival Luke Boulton, on loan at Luton Town from Manchester City – and showed why he has made an immediate impact at Oakwell in his cameo appearance for the national team, with a number of high energy runs down the flank.
“It’s a very proud moment for me; it’s what I’ve been waiting for for ages really,” said Thomas. “My family and friends were here to see it, so it’s a proud moment for them as well.
“They were really excited; I think it’s been my dad’s dream for a while for me to play for any England youth team and I’m so glad that I’ve been able to do it now and he was here to be able to witness it.
“It feels great; I don’t think there’s anything better than playing for your country. As footballers, that’s what we dream of when we’re kids: to put the England jersey on. So I’m thankful to everyone who has played a part in it – all of the coaches over the past years and now at Barnsley as well."
Keith Downing’s young Lions side drew 0-0 with their Dutch counterparts in the European U20 Elite League Group A opener in front of more than 2,500 spectators at Montgomery Waters Meadow.
England perhaps could have taken all three points late on and were denied what looked to be a clear penalty for handball in injury time. But a draw against last season’s group winners was a steady start to the campaign for the youngsters.
“I thought the lads did well; Holland are a very good team, as we know,” continued Thomas. “The lads did well not to concede and, on another day, we could have had a penalty and nicked it 1-0 at the end.
“It’s a very good result; Holland won this last season, so to start off with a point and to get a clean sheet is a massive positive. We can take that into Monday against Switzerland and hopefully get three points there.”
Thomas spent the past few days at the FA’s state-of-the-art training facility, St George’s Park, which housed players from Gareth Southgate’s senior set-up to Kevin Betsy’s U17 squad.
The Reds’ forward even took to the swimming pool with Premier League stars Harry Kane and Raheem Sterling as players from all age groups mingled at the camp.
“I think St George’s Park is probably the best around for facilities – you can’t beat it,” insisted Thomas. “It was very good, the pitches are top quality and they have everything on site, so that’s a bonus.
“I didn’t know anyone when I came in and the lads have all been brilliant with me; they’re all such a welcoming bunch – including the staff. So they made me feel at home straight away and I settled in well.
“It’s been good. If you look at the under 20 squad, there’s some big names in there – Angel Gomes, for example – so the step-up is very good and all of the players are good technically.
“The quality is top notch to be fair. When I first joined, I think I was a bit surprised at how sharp and quick it is, and the quality is much higher, but when you’re with players from top Premier League clubs it’s what you expect.”
Former Notts County and Wolverhampton Wanderer midfielder Downing is back in charge of the Three Lions’ U20 side, having previously coached this age group four years ago.
The 54-year-old also guided England U19s to European Championship glory in 2017, and Thomas reserved praise for his national coach for giving him the opportunity at international level.
“Keith has been great,” asserted the 20-year-old. “I knew a little bit about him before I joined because he managed Cheltenham, where I’m from.
“But, since I joined up here, he’s been brilliant with me and told me to play my game like I do at Barnsley, and he’s given me confidence to go out there and do it with the other players.”
You can watch Luke’s full interview for FREE on iFollow Barnsley.