Sholing’s FA Vase victory may sound like a surprise inspiration for one of football’s top young talents but watching his uncles win at Wembley helped power Levi Colwill’s rise to prominence.
The 20-year-old centre-back is on the brink of making his senior England debut this month as an “amazing year” continues for the homegrown Chelsea star.
Colwill flourished on loan at Brighton and went on to win the Under-21 European Championship over the summer, before signing a new long-term deal and making his debut for the club he joined aged eight.
Chelsea is his team but Southampton is his home, where the defender’s family ties to local non-league side Sholing have left a lasting impact.
Watching the team was a regular part of his childhood and the pinnacle arrived in 2014, when he was mascot as uncles Barry and Byron Mason won the FA Vase against West Auckland Town.
Asked if that day at Wembley made him realise this is what he wanted to do, Colwill said: “Definitely.
“I remember just waking out with them, feeling the nerves. I saw how serious they were and I remember the celebrations after.
“It was just like a family thing with their team. Everyone was a family and I just love that feeling.
“So being a little boy, I remember walking out and looking up and thinking ‘I’ve got to be here one day, I’ve got to play here – I can’t let my uncles play here and not me’. Hopefully one day that happens with England.”
Colwill left Chelsea training early that day in time to get to Wembley, where he changed into his Sholing kit and waited in the tunnel for his uncles to walk past and lead him out.
He described the 1-0 win as “one of the best feelings ever” and nine years on the ties to Sholing remain as strong as ever.
Uncle Barry may have retired but Byron Mason is still going strong and is closing in on 700 games for Sholing, where Dan – the youngest of the Mason brothers – is scoring for fun.
“I still go there whenever I can,” Colwill said. “I haven’t been this season yet, but I went a few times last season.
“I like going to their ground or even I like going on away days. If I have a chance and they all love me, so it’s good.”
Colwill will have to miss at least two more Sholing games due to England’s Euro 2024 qualifier against Ukraine on Saturday and the friendly at Scotland three days later.
The defender joked he is “going to have to play catch up” when he returns from an international break that many expect to see the highly-regarded defender make his senior debut in.
Colwill has earned praise for his confidence and composure on the ball, but it has not always been that way, describing himself as “very erratic” up until as recently as three years ago.
The defender did not want the ball and said “if it came to me I’m booming it first time”, but something clicked and the internal drive for more has powered his development.
“I think I’m hard on myself, definitely,” Colwill said. “You know, after games if you had a tough day it’ll play on my head for the rest of the night, and I think I’m someone that has to watch the game back as soon as possible.
“Because if not, I’ll just be laying there trying to sleep and I’m just remembering things. It’s not a nice feeling.
“But I think that’s where I push myself. I think not many people can get to me with what they say or anything, so I have to get myself there and I think it works the best.
“So, when I’ve told myself ‘you’ve had a bad day at the office’, I feel like I have something to prove against myself.
“Like ‘you’re better than this’ and I think that’s why I’ve done so well so far.”
Asked if he brings works home with him, he said: “Yeah, 100 per cent because, you know, football’s my life. It’s my life, as simple as that, so being at home I can’t switch off.
“I haven’t learned how to switch off yet, anyway, so, yeah, I’m always trying to improve at home whenever I can.”