Joe Willock | In my own words

Do you remember that training video that Pele made years and years ago? Well I know that video like the back of my hand.

When I was growing up in Walthamstow, my dad would sit me and my two brothers, Chris and Matty, in our high chairs and would just play that video on repeat. We’d be eating and swinging on our seats, all the time watching Pele’s training video over and over again. I can probably tell you everything that happens in it!

From a young age, everything in my life was dedicated to football. In our house, it’s all we knew. We didn’t have a lot of money and we lived in a very small household, but the three of us loved playing football. 

Sometimes we had to move the sofa and TV out of the way to create enough space for knock-outs in the house together, but I really enjoyed it. My childhood was brilliant and I wouldn’t change a thing.

The Willocks: Joe (left) with his brothers Matty (middle), Chris and their parents

Everything was about football because my dad instilled it in us early on. This is what he wanted us to do and we loved it as well, so it was the perfect partnership and it's got us to where we are today. 

Did we have other interests? To be fair, I can't really remember any of us speaking about anything other than football. Football was our life and it's what we had our full focus on. Every day we'd wake up and we just wanted to play football. We'd go to training, come home and then we'd play more football. 

My dad loved to watch us play, too. We used to stick him in goal and then it would just be the three of us against him. That was our world and I was just so blessed to have my brothers, my sister, my dad and my mum, because we didn't need anyone else.

Me and my brothers are so, so close. Like I said, we grew up in a house in Walthamstow, a place called Priory Court. It wasn't a very big house, so me and my brothers would sleep in the same bed. We had two beds and we used to put them together so that we could all sleep in the same one. 

Our Hale End academy is only down the road from where the Willocks grew up

Every night we would talk about what we're going to achieve and where we're going to live when we become footballers. We'd just tell our dreams to each other all night. Those moments, you never get them back. But I keep them with me in my heart and mind so much, and when we have those trials and tribulations, we can always think back to those moments. We'll be so close for the rest of our lives. 

My oldest brother, Matty, is the one who's always had the brains. Chris has brains too but when we were growing up, he was the golden boy. He was the one who was so talented from the get-go, just so skilful and the one everyone was drawn to. 

Me? I feel like I've got a bit of both. As the youngest one, I had to be the toughest one and grow up early because I had two older brothers that didn't treat me any differently to how they treated each other. 

They did give me a bit of grief when we were growing up and they'd put me in my place every now and again, but they gave a good balance with it as well. They're not too much older than me, so growing up one-and-a-half years or three years younger doesn't really seem like a lot. You're all very, very young.

Reunited: The trio share the Emirates Stadium pitch back in May 2017

We would always push each other to be the best and make each other better. When we'd play knock-outs, there wasn't one of us who didn't want to win. There'd be sliding going on and because I was youngest, I'd have to give that little bit extra because I was lacking in strength. They were always bigger than me, so I had to learn to compete, and that's made me who I am today. That's given me that fight, that drive, that desire. 

It would get very competitive and my dad never let us off, either. He always wanted to see a winner, and that helped us all get into a massive club like Arsenal. 

It's just me left here now but I wouldn't really look at it like I'm the last one standing or anything like that. I feel like everyone has their own path and mine was to get to Arsenal's first team, whereas theirs was to go somewhere else. 

I truly believe in my brothers and I know that one day they'll be playing at the level that I know they can play at. It all goes back to what we'd talk about when we were younger. I know we can all get to that position and, God willing, it will happen.

Chris (left) and Joe pose at the Emirates ahead of an under-23s game

We still talk a lot now. Like I said before, we'll always be close. My dad obviously lets us all know how we're getting on but when he's not around for whatever reason, we try to speak to each other as much as possible. 

Chris is actually living with me at the moment because he's on loan at West Brom and although he spends a lot of time in Birmingham, he's over at mine a lot. And Matty plays for Gillingham, so still lives back at home because it's only an hour away. I get to see them every day and it's brilliant.

We try to give each other encouragement and also try to be harsh on each other sometimes, to make us all better players. But for my part, I just try to tell them to stay positive and that's what they do for me too. We've got that sort of spirit and connection from my dad.

He‘s the best person in the world. He's my rock and is my hero. For me to look at him and tell you all the sacrifices that he's made, it's just impossible. He's given up his whole life for me and my brothers to become who we are today. 

He was in the fashion trade and had a shop, which he had to sell to keep on taking us to football. At this point we were young and he never knew we would go on to become footballers, but he sold it anyway. That's just the sort of thing that he would do because he has so much faith in us. It's crazy. He's my hero. 

When we were growing up, he never missed a game. Whether it was school football or district football, he used to come to our tuck-shop games and watch outside from behind the fence. He was so dedicated to seeing his boys play football. 

Now, if I play an away game and he's not there, it unsettles me a bit because I love to see him in the crowd. That's one of the reasons why I play football, to make him proud. When I don't see him it's a bit upsetting, but I know that he'll be watching it somehow.

His seal of approval as well... wow. That's a seal of approval that stays at the top for me. That will be the same until the end of my career. Growing up, my dad always gave me a match verdict even in training. He used to watch our training sessions and would tell me if I trained well or not. That was all that mattered to me. It hasn't done me wrong so far!

I just need to keep going. Success for me is making people happy when they watch me. If I've inspired people coming from bad areas or estates like I have, and I've inspired them to live out their dreams as well, that would make me really happy. 

I want to continue to play for Arsenal, hopefully one day captain the side and then one day play for England. That would really make me happy as well and I know that my brothers would feel the same. 

They have big dreams as well, but we all have the same goal: to do everything we can in our careers to do our ability justice. I know we can do that.

Joe Willock

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