‘Five-one, and even Heskey scored!’ – The chant jubilantly sung by England fans following that historic night in Munich. It’s a chant that epitomises the unfair view of Emile Heskey throughout his footballing career.
A player that won six major trophies, scored over 150 topflight goals and represented his country on 62 occasions – Emile had a fine career at the very top level. The chant is still used to this day by some England fans as an off-hand way of boasting their superiority over Germany, but unreasonably places him as the fall guy considering his consistent contributions for his country.
Entering the call dressed in full suit, earphones and cap, Emile radiates a calm and self-confident aura. There is a steely focus as he converses with hosts Brendan McLoughlin and Jacob Tombling, and a feeling that he desires to tell his story after years of focusing on his profession.
‘It felt like a great time to make this book – as a player when you achieve something, it’s straight onto the next high. You never think about your career until it’s over.’
The book has been nominated for best autobiography at the prestigious Telegraph’s Sports Book Awards, and it is easy to see why. His stories on starting out at Leicester, his huge move to Liverpool and battles with racism are all captivating. He dealt with the same racism that many players, Raheem Sterling and Marcus Rashford as examples are facing now, but without the blanket of social media for trolls to hide behind.
‘Back then, if you wanted to avoid things, you just didn’t buy the paper.’ He is very supportive and passionate when touching on Rashford’s recent campaigns, and the evolution of football punditry:
‘I think it’s slowly changing. You see Alex Scott now on Sky getting ridiculed for using a certain term, then years later everyone is using it. People don’t listen simply because she is a woman.’
He mentions his presenting work on Sky too, including later this evening, and it’s clear that he’s a busy man. His character has often been described as driven, focused – not unconfident but also not loud. It’s clear that since retirement he has wanted to push himself out into the world of Media.
‘I wasn’t the most outgoing person when I was younger, and that made it tough when moving to Liverpool. It was the first time living without my mum, there was no sat nav, nothing.’
That move, which made him Liverpool’s record signing, was a huge baptism of fire and one that he describes as putting him ‘out of his depth’. The considered delivery of his stories and answers is one of a man that has been to the very top – ignoring doubters, hardships and even recent Youtube trolls on his path.
His humility makes the extraordinary tales of trophies and wondrous wins around the World seem normal, achievable almost, for anyone. That is what Emile has always done best – placing everything on his back, remaining focused on what matters, and inspiring everyone around him.