In years past, James Trafford has spent much of the off-season surrounded by cattle, sitting on a combine harvester or moving bales of hay on the family farm in Greysouthen, a village on the edge of the Lake District. But, this summer, he has not helped his parents but preserved England’s impeccable defensive record at the European Under-21 Championship.
Wednesday’s semi-final against Israel in Batumi, Georgia will be his 57th game in the last 12 months and a year that began with the keeper on loan in League One at Bolton Wanderers is set to end with £19million. move on to Premier League newcomers Burnley. And I’m hoping for a winners’ medal to boot.
The England squad are decked out in top Premier League talent such as Noni Madueke, Morgan Gibbs-White, Anthony Gordon, an attacking trio who switched clubs last season for a combined fee of over £100m pounds, and Levi Colwill, another 20-year-old. -old with a reputation for browning. But Trafford, who has been on Manchester City’s books since signing from Carlisle United aged 12, was the performer of the breakthrough. England are yet to concede at the tournament, with Trafford making a series of eye-catching saves.
Trafford, who learned to drive by driving the tractor through barley fields at his home in Cumbria, has spent the past two years continuing his education on loan at third level. First with Accrington Stanley as an 18-year-old, then Bolton, where he has spent the last season and a half, setting a record nine consecutive clean sheets at home along the way. His first loan spell was difficult, if not character-building, after injury and the loss of his first-choice goalkeeper spot.
“When you loan out young goalkeepers you’re accepting to put up with their pain a bit because even at his age he will still make mistakes,” says Accrington coach John Coleman. “You don’t get a fully accomplished goalkeeper at 21.”
Bolton technical director Chris Markham knew about Trafford from his four years with the Football Association and the club moved in January last year. “I was still playing then and the manager [Ian Evatt] I was thinking about getting out again, but I was looking to become a manager and I said: ‘I think we have to go get someone,’ said Bolton goalkeeping coach Matt Gilks, aged 18. 41, who played in the top flight with Blackpool.
“There were days in training where he was like, ‘Can you just shoot me and I’ll save him?’ Kind of like being in the playground as a kid when you want to dive in. He was like, ‘Can you just take pictures?’ I was like, ‘Well, it doesn’t really work like that Traff, we have to warm up first.’ He loves being a goalie.”
Trafford started as a midfielder at Carlisle but volunteered to step into goal aged nine and the rest is history. He impressed Pep Guardiola in a post-training penalty shoot-out in 2020, depriving his manager of 12 yards and was part of City’s traveling squad for the Champions League final the following year. Confidence has rarely been an issue for Trafford, who has long asserted his belief that one day he could be England’s No.1 and recently insisted he could replace Ederson if needed.
“Having that confidence at such a young age is great because a lot of people get hesitant and start thinking, ‘I hope I don’t do this wrong, I hope I don’t do this wrong,'” Gilks says. . “He’s completely the other way around, but he’s also very grounded.”
Trafford is hungry for success. An incredible save at Port Vale last August, to divert the ball around a post, was a big part of recording the second of his 22 clean sheets in Ligue 1 last season, nearly sharing the price of the glove. gold with Christian Walton of Ipswich. “He only had one eye on it,” Gilks said. “He didn’t play the last game at Bristol Rovers away and he was like, ‘Well, if I play…’ We had to say, ‘The playoffs are slightly more important than your record sheet white.
“There were a lot of games where he made game-winning saves for us, and with his size and stature he could make saves out of nowhere. He was a big part of us getting to the playoffs last year.