From Port Solent boy to the man for Roy

St John's Junior School's headteacher would often instruct Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain to serve in the centre of defence.

Thursday, 17th May 2012, 7:53 pm
Updated Thursday, 7th June 2018, 7:39 pm

Sometimes the youngster would be asked to don the gloves and take his place in goal.

For Tony Shrubsall, it seemed only fair.

After all, the prodigiously-talented midfielder mercilessly destroyed all-comers when the ball was at his feet.

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Oxlade-Chamberlain would score directly from corners with embarrassing ease. In fact, he would net in almost every match he played.

In four years, St John’s Junior School team lost just once, conceded only two goals and won every single trophy for which they competed.

At the hub of the side was Oxlade-Chamberlain, the Pompey-born footballer who some seven years later would be in the England squad heading to Euro 2012.

Should he appear in the Ukraine and Poland, he would be the fifth player from the city to represent England, along with Reg Flewin, Peter Harris, Ray Crawford and Steve Foster.

For maximum effect during those school days, Shrubsall would employ this worryingly-diminutive youngster in the heart of midfield.

When graven-faced opposition managers pleaded mid-onslaught whether it would be possible to remove Oxlade-Chamberlain, his manager naturally obliged.

Except the star all-rounder would prove to be just as magnificent in defence or as a goalkeeper.

From the age of seven until 11, the boy who grew up in Port Solent – as son to former Pompey midfielder Mark Chamberlain – was under the wing of Shrubsall at Southsea-based St John’s.

And the junior school headteacher fondly remembers the youngster he always knew would become a footballing star.

He said: ‘I remember the senior school’s former headmaster, Nigel Thorne, one day turning to me saying we should be proud to have been involved in the development of a player who would go on to appear for England.

‘Alex was aged eight at the time.

‘There was something special about him. It was his natural ability that made him that much better.

‘In 20 years of being a teacher, I have never seen talent like it.

‘You knew if he was in the football team, you were going to win.

‘That’s how it proved because in four years, the team lost just once and conceded two goals.

‘They won every single tournament they entered.

‘Even playing five-a-side, for three years his side didn’t concede a goal.

‘In fairness, Alex was part of a very talented team but he was by far the stand-out player.

‘We played him in the centre of midfield because it is the most influential position on the park.

‘He took all the corners and all the free-kicks. In fact, he scored quite a few goals direct from corners with the ball curling in.

‘Very often we would put him in to defence to give other teams a chance. Sometimes their managers would come across to me and ask if I could do something. The problem was, when he was in defence they would never get a shot in on goal.

‘Even when we put him in goal he was superb. He was just naturally talented.

‘Mind you, I’m sure for England he will end up in central midfield.’

At the age of 11, Oxlade-Chamberlain moved up into senior school and played rugby for the next five years.

However, the youngster would still play football while on the books of Southampton.

In 2009 he left the Southsea school with nine GCSEs and joined the St Mary’s club full-time before joining Arsenal for £12m last summer.

Since then, the 18-year-old has made 26 appearances for the Gunners. Now he has been named in Roy Hodgson’s maiden England squad – much to the delight of those who used to teach him.

Shrubsall added: ‘Alex comes back from time-to-time to see us. He was here only recently and donated a signed Arsenal shirt to raise money for our Malaysian World Challenge.

‘My sons Ollie and Jack went to school with him and remain friends. I also like to tell people I coached Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain!

‘Mind you, his dad was more of an influence than me – he was also his biggest critic by a mile.

‘He would come and watch him every game and I can tell you he was never satisfied!’