England: Pets, banter & Williams – inside Word Cup camp with Three Lions

BBC Sport's Kelly Somers
Host nation: Qatar Dates: 20 November-18 December Coverage: Live on BBC TV, BBC iPlayer, BBC Radio 5 Live, BBC Sounds and the BBC Sport website and app. Day-by-day TV listingsFull coverage details

Eighteen months ago, I walked in to England’s media centre at their St George’s Park training base for the very first time as England reporter, not really sure what to expect.

The journey that group went on to the Euros final was remarkable. Now we are here in Qatar, in a different continent, a different season and a whole different tournament (not to mention a few indifferent results in between), and it’s clear that despite so much changing, among the players very little has.

This is still a squad very much together, very much focused and very much determined to make a statement against France on Saturday.

Hotel life

England are based in Al Wakrah, which is just over 10 miles from the centre of Doha, with a seafront hotel just minutes away from their training base at a local sports complex.

It’s very outside based, so they spend a lot of time in the communal areas, and especially by the pool and on the basketball court.

You may have seen the scenes when they returned from their last 16 win against Senegal, the carnival-like atmosphere the staff created – reportedly worked on prior to the players’ return, with Jack Grealish telling us that they too have become honorary England fans.

Wolf and cats

Each day after watching 15 minutes of training, we then get an exclusive interview with a player in our BBC Sport interview room in the media centre.

While we’ve had Mason Mount telling us about meeting his young niece out here for the first time, Callum Wilson admitting to ignoring a text from Alan Shearer and Phil Foden revealing his hair dying attempts at last summer’s Euros ruined his hair, I’m not sure any of our wide-ranging interviews have failed to mention Wolf.

No this isn’t another camp pet like Dave the cat that John Stones and Kyle Walker have adopted – this is the card game that the players play.

Luke Shaw gave us an extensive description into how it’s played – it seems to be a game based on deception, with players pretending to be villagers and the wolves having to hide their identity.

James Maddison told us about 20 of the players playing it one night this week, Kalvin Phillips has admitted he doesn’t usually partake but enjoys watching the noises/reactions that come from the group, while Mason Mount has given himself the title of most improved. They will hope they are as able to deceive the France defence in a similar way on Saturday.

(And in case you were wondering, some of the players have confirmed they do love real life animals too and they hope that Dave the cat will somehow be able to return to England with them, though who has cat custody has yet to be confirmed.)

‘Let me entertain you’

Last summer it was Ed Sheeran who serenaded the squad – this year it’s Robbie Williams. The huge Port Vale fan and former Take That band member played in Doha this week and stopped by the players’ hotel the night before as a surprise.

Former Three Lions captain David Beckham also popped by during the group stages too – the footage of Bukayo Saka asking him for a photo has done the rounds but we’re told he wasn’t the only member of the squad to do so.

Bellingham has the ‘banter’

There isn’t an England conversation at the moment that doesn’t involved Jude Bellingham and it’s the same at the training ground.

He was one of the first players we interviewed as part of our Iran build up. He said he was saving his goal and duly delivered by scoring England’s tournament opener – but he clearly has the banter too.

Jack Grealish told us that shortly after he had done his worm dance celebration to fulfil a promise to young fan Finlay that Bellingham tried to trick him into believing he was offside.

He’s also been heard vociferously sticking up for midfield partner Jordan Henderson – with Henderson laughing that aged 32, he’s got a 19-year-old sticking up for him.

The way the teenager has become central to a team that had previously reached a semi-final and final speaks volumes, and shows, again, the special atmosphere inside this England camp.

This time around though there isn’t just hope, but more belief, that collectively they can make a statement against the World Cup holders this weekend.

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