Joleon Lescott believes his upbringing with the Wolves Academy helped mould him into a character ready to win the Premier League and represent England at a major tournament.
The defender is one of Wolves’ proudest products, climbing through the youth system to make his debut in gold and black as a teenager in August 2000.
After playing Premier League football at Molineux, the defender moved to Everton and played for England, before moving on to Manchester City, where he was an integral part in their 2012 Premier League-winning side.
However, at Wolves he was integrated into an old school system. Lescott, like all Academy players of that era, became accustomed to the first-team environment well before making his debut, completing small jobs for the senior players.
He was fortunate early on to catch the eye of club captain Keith Curle, who took Lescott under his wing and, being a fellow defender, formed a mentor figure for the youngster learning his trade.
“Keith was experienced and sometimes when I travelled with the team I roomed with him,” he explained. “I might not have even been on the bench, but the experience was vital at a young age.
“I’d watch Keith and see how professionally he prepared for a game – that gave me an idea of the standards I needed to reach. We’d travel to the game on the coach and he was always so relaxed.
“Keith and Paul Simpson were the pros I had to do jobs for. We’d have to clean boots, move the goals and clean the changing rooms, but come Christmas they’d look after you.”
Lescott was part of an Academy set-up including Matt Murray, Jermaine Easter and Keith Andrews, and remembers fondly the first time it sunk in the opportunity he had of representing Wolves at professional level.
“The categories for the Academy meant you usually played locally, so we played teams like Shrewsbury.
“Then we played in the Floodlit Cup and we got to the final so my first game at Molineux was a final which we won 2-1. We played Luton and I scored. There was a couple of thousand there which was the biggest crowd I’d played in front of.
“Getting a professional contract wasn’t as glamourised as it is now. We didn’t know the end goal back then, we just played and hoped we’d stay, so to have that sort of experience was brilliant for young players.”
Lescott signed for the club after being scouted locally by Les Green and joined at a time when reserve football was deemed a useful platform between youth football and the first-team – a sentiment the defender echoes.
“I understand how important it is to play at an early age and it wasn’t just the Academy, it was the reserves as well. That team was a combination of players who didn’t play at the weekend and young lads.
“The standard was very good, some players were frustrated they weren’t playing and some were fighting to get into the team. I was playing in that team from an early age and it gave me early exposure of playing against professionals who’d played hundreds of league games.”
Now the reserve leagues are no longer in existence, meaning for big clubs, the loan system has become indispensable. Since ending his playing days, Lescott has monitored players out on loan from Man City and knows the importance of regular football for youngsters.
“We mentor players Man City have out on loan and that’s heavily involved with Academy. The youngest player we have out on loan is 18, up until 23.
“I’m always looking at players coming through at Wolves too and speak to Carl Ikeme who is a good friend of mine. Wolves have done well with players coming through, consistently producing players.”
This article first appeared in the Wolves versus Manchester City matchday programme, which is available around Molineux on matchdays for just £3.50, and also featured content with Nuno, Willy Bolly and Kevin Foley. Back issues are available in the Molineux Megastore and online now.