Frankie Fielding reveals pain over loss of dad who missed his rise to fame

Stuart Pearce's Under-21 keeper faces a big test today but he has a special reason to do his family name proud

It is a proud day for a footballer when either of his parents is present for the first time to watch him play league football, and Frankie Fielding was particularly excited when his father decided to fly home from his job in Malaysia to watch him turn out on loan for Wycombe Wanderers. But 57-year-old Frank Snr, who his son says had moved to Kuala Lumpur to work for a textile company "to put food on the table for us" never made the trip.

"We couldn't get hold of him all day," Fielding recalled yesterday. "I was living in a flat in Wycombe and then my cousin's boyfriend drove over from Maidenhead and told me my dad had died [from a heart attack]. I went straight home after that. The thing that pees me off is that he never saw me in a first-team game."

Fielding's father remains an inspiration to him, commemorated in a tattoo on his arm, and there have been more than 100 appearances since that day in goal for club and country, albeit not for the team he really wanted to represent: his beloved home-town club, Blackburn Rovers.

Shunted out on loan eight times after joining their academy, he accepted at the end of this past season that he would have to move on, and was delighted to sign for Derby County, where he had proved both popular and talented in two of those loan periods. The Derby manager Nigel Clough had received an excellent character reference from his former Nottingham Forest team-mate Stuart Pearce, who has now installed Fielding as his first-choice goalkeeper in the England Under-21 team competing here at the European Championship. The selection has been justified by his outstanding form, exemplified by two identical saves in the top corner of the goal during the last two matches, a friendly against Norway and then the 1-1 draw with Spain on Sunday.

"What they do at international level sometimes helps their club careers and I think it's done that with Frankie," Pearce said yesterday. That included promotion to the senior squad on one occasion in the past season, and with so much uncertainty surrounding the various deputies to Joe Hart, opportunity may knock again. The down-to-earth Fielding will not be fazed if it does, having enjoyed his introduction to the stars in the senior England camp: "The likes of Wayne Rooney came over and said 'Hello, I'm Wayne'. I said 'I know who you are, pal!'."

With Fielding behind a settled back four, Pearce has no worries about his defence ahead of this evening's game against Ukraine, who began with a 2-1 defeat by the fancied Czech Republic in which they lost their influential captain and midfielder Taras Stepanenko for the rest of the tournament.

The England manager yesterday admitted to "one or two positions I need to sleep on" – notably in midfield, where the captain Michael Mancienne's place must be at risk after a poor display against Spain. Jack Rodwell and Fabrice Muamba, both of whom were in the team that lost the final to Germany two years ago, will hope to return alongside Jordan Henderson in a tighter trio, perhaps to the exclusion of the disappointing Tom Cleverley. "Making sure the last person who was captain will be in the team is absolutely no consideration to me whatsoever," Pearce said.

Victory in Herning would put England in an excellent position to qualify, whereas a draw or defeat would risk an early return home – something welcomed no doubt by various club managers, but not of benefit to the youngsters' long-term development.

England (probable, 4-3-3) Fielding (Derby); Walker (Tottenham), Jones (Blackburn), Smalling (Manchester United), Bertrand (Chelsea); Henderson (Liverpool), Muamba (Bolton), Rodwell (Everton); Sturridge (Chelsea), Welbeck (Manchester United), Rose (Tottenham).

Ukraine (probable, 4-2-3-1) Kanibolotskiy; Butko, Rakitskiy, Kryvtsov, Selin; Chesnakov, Partsvaniya; Biliy, Konoplyanka, Yarmolenko; Zozulya.

Referee A Stavrev (Macedonia).