Are England's Young Goalkeepers More Experienced Than Ever?

By Will Murray

News • Apr 10, 2024

Are England's Young Goalkeepers More Experienced Than Ever?

Are England's young goalkeepers becoming more experienced, earlier in their careers, than previous generations?

James Trafford was called up to the England senior squad for the first time on Sunday, March 24. While the decision raised some eyebrows due to Trafford’s inconsistent form for struggling Burnley this season, it did put into focus the improved pathway for young English goalkeepers that exists today. 

In 2014, the FA announced that they had produced an in-depth dossier on the England DNA coaching blueprint for the next generation of players. Dan Ashworth, who was the FA’s director of elite development at the time, said to The Guardian, “We have a mantra that the only thing that changes is the size of the shirt.” 

The new blueprint set out to create a distinct identity at every age group in the England set-up, so that the transition to senior level was as seamless as possible. 

This applied to every position, but Tim Dittmer, who worked as a goalkeeping coach for the FA between 2013 and 2021, described the specific requirements of goalkeepers within the new system. Dittmer told The Guardian, “A ‘keeper these days needs to be able to receive the ball in tight areas, to see space and exploit space, either with a short pass or by striking the ball the length of the pitch.” From this evolved England's ‘GK DNA’, based on the FA's four corner model. 


Providing this message to England goalkeepers from an early age has been a key aspect of the coaching blueprint since its introduction in 2014. The aim is that the consistency of the tactical and game-management training will create a new generation of goalkeepers moulded in the same distinct style. 

A growing trend in recent years has also been the relative level of experience of goalkeepers in the England youth setups. Young goalkeepers are much more frequently exposed to the demands of senior football from an early age, which is something that was encouraged in the coaching blueprint of 2014. Creating a synergy in terms of playing style at every age group at England, while also playing regular senior football for teams in competitive environments, is becoming the hallmark of the next wave of English goalkeepers. 

Trafford is the prime example of this. The 21-year-old goalkeeper came through the academy at Manchester City, joining the club in 2015 at age 12. He made appearances for England Under 17s, 18s, 19s, 20s, and 21s. Overall, he has 32 caps across the five age groups, which included winning the 2023 UEFA European Under-21 Championship, where he saved a penalty in the final. 

While Trafford trained with England at the early age groups, helping to develop his ability with the ball at his feet and being comfortable in possession, he had loan spells at Accrington Stanley and Bolton Wanderers in the lower leagues. 

Trafford moved to League One Accrington when he was 18 and made only 11 appearances, with injuries disrupting his development. However, he went on to make 77 appearances for Bolton Wanderers in the same league, achieving 26 clean sheets in the 2022/23 season. He was even voted Bolton’s Young Player of the Year, alongside Liverpool youngster Conor Bradley. 

By the time Trafford returned to his parent club, Manchester City, he had made 89 senior appearances, which earned him a £15 million move to Burnley, who had just been promoted to the Premier League. 

Trafford is not the only young English goalkeeper who has been thrust into senior football at an early age. James Beadle currently plays for England under 20s and has played in five different age groups since Under 15 level in 2019. Beadle was a product of the Charlton Athletic academy before moving to Brighton & Hove Albion in 2022. Since then, he has been loaned out to Crewe Alexandra, Oxford United and Sheffield Wednesday, where he’s currently playing. 

He has made 41 appearances while on loan at these three clubs, including 13 for the Championship Owls since he joined the club in January 2024. Beadle has kept five clean sheets in 13 matches for Wednesday, who have edged closer to safety since the turn of the year. This is similar to Trafford’s experience, and he is also two years younger. 

Another example is Matthew Cox, who is currently on loan at Bristol Rovers from Brentford, making 27 appearances for the League One club. The 20-year-old goalkeeper has been in the England set-up since his Wimbledon days at Under 17 level, and was called up to the Under 21 squad for the most recent international break in March. From this, it is evident that there is now a clear pathway for young English goalkeepers. 

So, how does this differ from the experiences of the current group of senior England goalkeepers in Gareth Southgate’s squad? Jordan Pickford had various loan spells at the likes of Darlington, Alfreton Town, Burton Albion, Carlisle United, and Preston North End. He made his first team debut for Sunderland in the Premier League when he was 21, helping him achieve a move to Everton only a year later. 

Simultaneously, Pickford made appearances for three age groups in the England youth system, including 14 for the Under 21s. While this appears similar to the experiences of today’s young goalkeepers, the age when high level game exposure was achieved highlights a notable difference. 

Pickford had to wait until he was nearly 20 to make a senior appearance in League One. Trafford and Beadle were both exposed to this level of football at the age of 18. 

Nick Pope was made to wait even longer to be exposed to such a standard of senior football. 

He made his debut for League One Charlton on May 4, 2013, at the age of 21, but then had various loan spells at non-league and League Two clubs before securing a move to Burnley. Pope only became a regular for the Clarets in the Premier League in the 2017/18 season due to an injury to Tom Heaton. When Pope was 26, he made his first England appearance, a late bloomer compared to the next generation of English goalkeepers. 

Aaron Ramsdale was a regular in the England youth teams, playing right up to the Under 21s. Similarly, though, Ramsdale was made to wait until he was 20 to make his League One debut for AFC Wimbledon. 

He was able to establish himself as a regular for AFC Bournemouth in the Premier League in the 2019/20 season, before moving to Sheffield United the season after. While outside observers were intrigued by the prospect of a goalkeeper in his early 20s playing regular Premier League football, his senior experience in his teenage years as a professional was less significant than the likes of Beadle, Trafford, and even Cox. 

Ramsdale's exposure to top flight football with Bournemouth and Sheffield United in his very early twenties was something of a baptism of fire. Arsenal fans were concerned that they had signed a goalkeeper with a double relegation on his CV upon his arrival at the Emirates in 2021, but there is no doubting that those early experiences would have played a positively formative role in Ramsdale's development.

In England's most recent U21 squad, the collective senior professional appearance count between Matt Cox, Wigan's Sam Tickle, and James Trafford was over 150. Ten years earlier, the February internationals had seen Sam Johnstone, Jack Butland, and Jonathan Bond bring around 100 collective senior professional appearances to the England squad. 


In the past, the debate surrounding young goalkeepers and their integration into the England senior squad has been a popular one. The early 2010s saw Ben Foster, Paul Robinson, Robert Green, Chris Kirkland, Scott Carson, and Joe Hart to choose from in the goalkeeper pool. 

Their pathways to the senior team were very different. Foster had never played for any of the youth teams, while Green and Hart had played numerous times in the England youth setup. 

Robinson turned 20 just before the new century dawned, but by that point was only six appearances in to the 119 he would make for Leeds between 1998 and 2004. Kirkland had made 27 by his 20th birthday at Coventry. Robert Green had no more than five. Foster hadn't made his professional league debut yet, and Joe Hart's Premier League debut came only ten days before his 20th birthday. 

That being said, Hart had made 54 appearances for Shrewsbury before that date, and would make a further twenty-plus appearances in the top flight for Manchester City in his twenty first year. 

In 2011, these five goalkeepers were separated by less than ten years in age, prompting questions over the pathway for English goalkeepers. Stuart Owens, a goalkeeping coach at Wycombe Wanderers in 2011, noted how “there has been a trend over the last decade or so of more young ‘keepers being thrown in at the top level because distribution among goalies is so important now and these guys are coming through the academy system with near-perfect technique.” 

On the flip side, Sam Allardyce had backed Paul Robinson, England's second-most experienced senior goalkeeper at the time behind David James, to take the number one shirt in South Africa in 2010. He wasn't picked by Fabio Capello. Robinson retired from international football later that year, and David James didn't receive another cap after the World Cup.

Of course, experience can manifest itself in ways other than appearances, but the in-at-the-deep-end learning that occurs on the pitch often is the most formative. 

Thirteen years later and the pathway for young English goalkeepers is much clearer, through the FA’s strategic plan to give the next generation the best chance of success. Exposure to a high level of senior football from an early age, while playing consistently in the different age groups for England, is clearly the new model. 

As we have seen, this has not always been the case, but a revolution in English goalkeeper development is well underway. With Trafford’s call-up to the England senior squad at 21 and Beadle’s impressive form in the Championship at 19, the early signs are promising. 

Shop featured products
Related Editorials
Read All Posts

Copyright 2022 Goalkeeper. All Rights Reserved.