Bostock keeps praying for his Olympic dream

As the debate drags on about selecting a British football team at London 2012, one young Spur is happy to keep the faith
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The Independent Online

Apart from how we are going to be paying for it all, the most vexed question surrounding London 2012 is whether there will be a British football team in the Olympics for the first time in 40 years.

With the Football Associations of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland stubbornly refusing to play ball, fearing their own individual World Cup identity would be compromised despite Fifa's assurances, the current likelihood is that any players picked will be running out to the tune of There'll always be an England.

The last time Great Britain played in the Games, football managers wore trilbies, not tracksuits, but whatever the 2012 composition there will be a team, insists the British Olympic Association chairman Colin Moynihan.

"It is our intention to enter both a men's and women's team in London and we are discussing how best we can achieve that with the home nations, Fifa and the IOC [International Olympic Committee]," Lord Moynihan says. "Really, I can't imagine that anyone in their right mind would want to deprive any young athlete from taking part in the Olympic Games."

Indeed not, which is good news for one Olympic footy hopeful with all the right credentials whose dream has always been to become an Olympian – though he never thought it might materialise on the football field.

John Bostock, the teenage prodigy who captains England's youth team, was a promising track and field athlete before his fleet-footed talents took him in the direction of Tottenham Hotspur via Crystal Palace, creating club history with both as their youngest-ever first-team debutant.

He explains: "I was quite talented at athletics, sprinting and hurdles, long distance, a bit of everything really, even the long jump. The last time I ran 100 metres in a race I was about 14 – I did 11.5sec and they reckoned I could become an international. But my PE teacher told me, 'John, you've got to choose between football and athletics'. It was football that was really in my heart, and my passion won.

"I had hoped that if I stayed in athletics I could be an Olympian – I have always been a great fan of the Olympics, particularly the athletics. So to think now there's a chance I could get into the Games as a footballer, wow, that's something. It would fulfil a dream. It's such a humongous event."

At 17, south London-born Bostock is primed to represent what will be an Under-23 team in 2012, and would be a suitable candidate in terms of both his ability and his clean-cut demeanour. The midfielder is an eternally chirpy chappie, a shining example of the happier face of football, a committed Christian who prays before every game.

He was signed by Palace as a child – "he is not just a good player, he will be a great player," says his former manager Peter Taylor – and was 15 years and 187 days old when he made his Championship debut against Watford in October 2007; and 16 years and 295 days when he came off the bench for his Spurs debut in the Uefa Cup against Dinamo Zagreb this season.

"Palace played a big part in my development," he says. "I've played everywhere apart from in goal but for the majority of my career I've been centre midfield. There were quite a few clubs who were interested in me at Palace but I chose Tottenham because they've got such a great set-up and the manager is always giving youth a chance. It took me a while to adapt to life at Tottenham but when I made my debut it was amazing. It went so quickly I can't even remember most of it.

"When you are my age in football, you need a lot of patience, and it's something I have had to have here, but I know my chance will come for a permanent place." He has been a regular in Tottenham's Under-18 team who won their group in the Premier Academy League before losing in the final to Arsenal, and was also in the squad for the prestigious Bellinzona tournament in Switzerland, defeating Barcelona and Sporting Lisbon.

His dad Michael Brown, a London cabbie, was a decent amateur boxer who fought at lightweight for Brixton ABC around the same time as Frank Bruno and was one fight away from making it to the Olympics himself. Father and son sometimes work out together in the ring.

Religion plays a big part in his life and he says, "there are quite a few of us young Christians in football". He admits he gets some dressing-room ribbing. "But that's no problem. It's all in good spirits." He is a regular churchgoer and says he became serious about his Christianity 18 months ago. "My sister had found the faith and she seemed so happy with life that I thought there must be something in it. So I went to church with her one day and I have been going ever since. Now I think it is very important to have faith."

Does it help his football? "Most definitely. This is a roller-coaster game. You have your ups and downs. Sometimes it can be the best game in the world but when you are down it is difficult and it helps to have that rock, that faith in God. It keeps me stable.

"Praise God, I'm not really injury-prone, just a few niggles now and then, and I love training. I love just working hard and I'm never happier than when the ball's at my feet. Obviously I want to win awards and championships and play at Wembley – the Olympic final would be great – but my main goal is to fulfil my potential. If I can do that, I'll be happy." Or even happier, you might say.

Message from an icon: Bill Slater

It's a little different now from when I played for the Great Britain team in the Olympics in 1952. You had to be an amateur and the top teams then were from what used to be the communist countries in Eastern Europe. They were professionals in all but name. Most were in the military.

The great Hungarians were at their peak with players like [Ferenc] Puskas and [Nandor] Hidegkuti. We didn't meet them because we were eliminated early on 5-3 by Luxembourg, which was a bit embarrassing. I'm not sure how many of them came from there. Some were certainly playing in Italy. But I enjoyed watching the Hungarians, who beat Yugoslavia in the final.

Our manager, Walter Winterbottom, asked me to write about them for the FA News. I warned that this was the shape of football to come but no one seemed to take any notice because they then came here and walloped the full England team 6-3. The way they played had quite an impact on me. It was one of my great football memories.

It really was a GB team with players from all the home nations. One or two went on to play as amateurs or semi-pros for professional clubs, like George Robb at Spurs and Jim Lewis at Chelsea.

When we gathered together we were a bit of a motley crew compared to teams like Hungary. The first time we all met was on the plane out. It was all very friendly though the Games didn't have quite the high status they do now.

It would be a pity not to have an all-British team in London because we haven't been in Olympic football for so long. I am sure that players like John Bostock, if he is selected, will look back on the Olympics, as I do, not just because of the football experience but because there is nothing quite like the camaraderie in the Games village, mixing with athletes of all nations from different sports. It is unique.

Bill Slater, BSc, CBE, now 82, former schoolteacher, played as wing half for Blackpool, appearing in the 1951 Cup Final – the last amateur to do so – Brentford and Wolves, winning 12 caps for England including at the 1958 World Cup. He was Footballer of the Year in 1960. His daughter Barbara, a former Olympic gymnast, is the BBC's new head of sport. He lives in Ealing, London

What do you want, a medal?

Britain last reached the Olympic football finals in Rome in 1960.

No British team has been entered since Munich in 1972, when they were eliminated by Bulgaria in the qualifying rounds.

Britain won gold medals in the 1900, 1908 and 1912 Games but the teams were composed entirely of English players – in 1900, all from one club, Upton Park FC.

No GB team has been selected since the Football Association abolished the distinction between amateurs and professionals in 1974. Olympic rules now permit professionals, with a maximum of three players over the age of 23.

Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are refusing to allow their players to be considered for a British team, which would have automatic qualification for 2012 as the host nation.

Manchester United's manager Sir Alex Ferguson has had informal talks with London 2012 chairman Sebastian Coe about the possibility of managing a GB team in London. Harry Redknapp and Martin O'Neill would be among other contenders, and England's coach Fabio Capello is said to have expressed "a keen interest".

Alan Hubbard

British Olympic Association

The British Olympic Association (BOA), formed in 1905, are the national Olympic committee for Great Britain and Northern Ireland. They prepare and lead the nation's finest athletes at the summer, winter and youth Olympic Games, and deliver elite-level support services to Britain's Olympic athletes and their national governing bodies. For further information, go to: