Romancing the Stone

Euro '96: England's latest hero seizes the opportunity to display his strength of character and international maturity; Norman Fox talks to a super sub who cemented the national cause

FROM the moment Steve Stone came on as substitute at Wembley England played like a team. Suddenly there was width, pace allied to strength and, above all, a balance. He got a lot of the credit for the badly needed win over the Swiss and left several more experienced rivals for the wide attacking midfield role wondering whether Terry Venables might now be tempted to stick with him. Not a bad night's work for a player who once sent out begging letters to clubs because he thought nobody wanted him, broke a leg three times and was convinced that he was finished before he was 20.

Stone may have been Nottingham Forest's Player of the Year last season, but even when he made his first appearance for England against Norway in Oslo last month he was still a largely unrecognised talent. Not that even he expected to be considered for the squad. "I'd had a good season and the team was doing well in this one, but I don't think I would have got in the squad if it hadn't been for injuries. But you have to take your chances." And in an otherwise disappointing England performance against Norway he certainly did that. He said that despite his laid-back reputation he was a bag of nerves, but, as Venables says, controlling them is the art of the successful newcomer.

Although Stone shares the same birthplace (Gateshead) as Paul Gascoigne, he could hardly be less like that flamboyant eccentric. Gerry Francis remarked that he seemed almost too modest and honest for his own good. They met after a recent game at White Hart Lane when Stone scored the winning goal against Spurs. "I told him that if we had to lose, we might as well lose to a great goal like the one he chipped in," Francis said. "Then he said it was a mistake - he intended it to be a centre. That ruined my day, but he's one of those players who keeps coming at you, and he's quite quick."

Being fairly quick and direct attracted little attention in the North- east when as a teenager he decided he wanted to become a professional. A Newcastle fan, he was disappointed when they failed to reply to his letter asking for a trial. Sunderland and eight other clubs were similarly unhelpful. He became desperate: after all, these days if you are 13 years old and have not been watched by a big club you start thinking you have missed the bus. But his letter caught the attention of Nottingham Forest, who did offer him a trial and took him on, only to have him break his right leg three times. Muscular complications set in, and he remembers "seeing the coaches at Forest looking at each other, as if to say 'how much longer before we tell him?' but I got through it."

Lively, but in awe of Stuart Pearce and especially Brian Clough, he eventually found them to be considerable allies. Nevertheless, he lived in fear of Clough's notoriously penetrating criticism. "On my debut I was really nervous before kick-off and must have been wittering on. He came in and told me to belt up." Archie Gemmill saw his potential and continually nagged at him when he held the ball for too long and ended up passing to the opposition.

Frank Clark's contribution to his progress has been more tactical. "I was playing the centre of midfield, which I like, but he moved me wide. I didn't play well for a while but he kept working on me. I've still got work to do on my crosses." Perhaps so, but making people make mistakes is his forte, something he proved in the recent European games, especially when scoring in the away leg at Auxerre. Forest may not have dominated that tie, but Stone's cool, pragmatic approach to the special problems involved in playing against a club with Auxerre's pedigree was crucial. They hope it will remain so against Lyon on Tuesday.

Venables said that what first impressed him was Stone's strength of character, adding: "He's adapted to international football in the same way that he adapted to playing European matches." Obviously his recent form has drawn the attention of other clubs, not least Manchester United. Doubtless tongue in cheek, Alex Ferguson says that it was a complete coincidence that his recent visit to Auxerre was on the day Forest were playing. He was only there to "study their set-up and youth policy". But, "yes", like everyone else he was impressed by Stone's ability to "get behind defences and never give anyone a chance to settle".

Clark says he has been fending off offers ever since Stone got his first cap, but 18 months ago there was virtually no interest. The injuries had delayed Stone's first-team career until he was 21. Clark jokes that because this sturdy 24-year-old had been losing his hair since he was a teenager, clubs assumed he was much older than he really was and perhaps ignored his long-term potential.

Asked to name the player who most inspires him, Stone chose Peter Beardsley, which was ironic since it was Beardsley who was expected to be the first substitute to get on the pitch last Wednesday night. Stone got there before him. He could be on a roll.

FootballGerman sparks three goals in four minutes at favourite No 10 role
Rumer was diagnosed with bipolarity, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder: 'I was convinced it was a misdiagnosis'
peopleHer debut album caused her post-traumatic stress - how will she cope as she releases her third record?
A long jumper competes in the 80-to-84-year-old age division at the 2007 World Masters Championships
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Radamel Falcao was forced to withdraw from the World Cup after undergoing surgery
premier leagueExclusive: Reds have agreement with Monaco
Arts and Entertainment
'New Tricks' star Dennis Waterman is departing from the show after he completes filming on two more episodes
tvHe is only remaining member of original cast
Life and Style
Walking tall: unlike some, Donatella Versace showed a strong and vibrant collection
fashionAlexander Fury on the staid Italian clothing industry
Arts and Entertainment
Gregory Porter learnt about his father’s voice at his funeral
Arts and Entertainment
tvHighs and lows of the cast's careers since 2004
Life and Style
Children at the Leytonstone branch of the Homeless Children's Aid and Adoption Society tuck into their harvest festival gifts, in October 1936
food + drinkThe harvest festival is back, but forget cans of tuna and packets of instant mash
Lewis Hamilton will start the Singapore Grand Prix from pole, with Nico Rosberg second and Daniel Ricciardo third
F1... for floodlit Singapore Grand Prix
New Articles
Life and Style
Couples have been having sex less in 2014, according to a new survey
Caption competition
Caption competition
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Volunteer Trustee opportunities now available at The Society for Experimental Biology

Unpaid Voluntary Position : Reach Volunteering: Volunteer your expertise as Tr...

Early Years Educator

£68 - £73 per day + Competitive rates of pay based on experience: Randstad Edu...

Nursery Nurse

£69 - £73 per day + Competitive London rates of pay: Randstad Education Group:...

Primary KS1 NQTs required in Lambeth

£117 - £157 per day + Competitive London rates: Randstad Education Group: * Pr...

Day In a Page

Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam