From almost quitting the game to the top of the sport – Tyrone Mings’ incredible journey from Town to England debut
- Credit: PA
It seems absurd now, having just seen him make his England debut, but there was a time when Tyrone Mings was on the verge of walking away from football.
Dropped by Southampton's academy for being 'too small' - he's now 6ft 5in - he was close to giving up on the non-league game because he hadn't passed his driving test and was struggling to get to matches.
He was a long way from making a living from the game, having been once turned down for a job at a cornershop and ending up working as a mortgage broker.
But he perservered, and his life changed when Ipswich Town came calling for him in December 2012.
He just so happened to be playing alongside Toby Osman, son of former Blues star Russell, at Evo-Stick Southern League outfit Chippenham, and, as a result, a trial at Playford Road was set-up.
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Osman recalls: "I got a call from one of my kids who was playing with Tyrone at Chippenham. I had known his father Adie for a while as he was a scout at Chelsea at the time.
"My lad Toby told me that Tyrone was improving and thought he would be worth having a look at. I mentioned it to Mick McCarthy and I saw him play St Albans and it was tipping it down.
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"He was playing against an experienced player in Barry Hayles and they were having a right battle during the game and I thought Tyrone was going to lose his rag a bit to be honest.
"But he kept his calm very well and he played well that day. I reported that back to Mick and he suggested getting him in and the rest is history. He played well in the trial game and Mick wanted to take him on straight away and that was it."
Even then, McCarthy was almost late to that game at Playford Road and he recalls seeing, through a gap in the trees as he wandered over from his office, the athletic youngster make one crunching tackle and thinking 'he'll do for me'.
Mings was duly signed from Chippenham for just £10,000 - and what a signing that proved to be!
He had to bide his time during his first season-and-a-half in Suffolk, but his chance came in the summer of 2014 when Aaron Cresswell was sold to West Ham for £3.75m.
He never looked back, grabbing the left-back slot with both hands. It's difficult to remember a player improving so rapidly in such a short space of time.
Fast, powerful, athletic and bursting with confidence, Mings was a key part of that unheralded Blues team which made an unlikely run to the play-offs in the 2014/15 season.
He caught the eye of numerous Premier League outfits, and duly moved to Bournemouth in June 2015, in a deal initially worth £8m, which saw winger Ryan Fraser and striker Brett Pitman arrive at Portman Road.
For the fans at Town, who had already taken him to their hearts, it was tough to watch him go - Mings had connected with the supporters in a way few other players have, making headlines for leaving two tickets on the gate for a fan in March 2013 after he said on Twitter he couldn't go to watch his beloved Blues because he was 'skint'.
He also spent Christmas Day that year feeding the homeless in Ipswich, and the following summer paid for new team shirts for some frustrated fans after the number on the back of his shirt changed from 15 to three, when they had bought shirts with the original number on.
Leaving the Blues was just as emotional for Mings. He said at the time: "This club will always be close to my heart. Mick McCarthy and Terry Connor were the ones who gave me my opportunity in the Football League and they had faith in me when Aaron Cresswell moved on.
"It was a tough decision to leave because I've made life long friends here, but my focus is now down at Bournemouth and a new personal challenge.
"I'm going down there to work under a really exciting, young English manager who can hopefully help me continue my development.
"But it's certainly going to be emotional to leave behind the fans and the players here, as well as the manager.
"I honestly couldn't have asked for anything more in terms of support I've had at Ipswich. The fans around town have been great.
"I've had quite a few messages, from the captain (Luke Chambers), Cole Skuse, Luke Hyam, Gerks (Dean Gerken). They've all just said 'good luck, you deserve it, go and take your chance.'
"I just want to say thanks really, thanks for everything. It's been a steep learning curve for me, it's not always been easy in terms of performances and results, but the fans have always stuck with me and the team."
Like many success stories however, there were to be bumps along the road to stardom for Mings. He made his Cherries debut on August 29, 2015 - and promptly suffered a serious knee injury just six minutes into his Premier League career.
That would rule him out for more than a year, with Mings finally returning to action in January 2017.
But he only made 17 total appearances for the Cherries in his time on the coast, and it appeared his career at the top level was in danger of stalling when he joined Aston Villa on loan last January.
He made an immeadiate impact - literally - in the Midlands, stamping on the face of Reading's ex-Norwich striker Nelson Oliveira in his debut, an incident for which he was not cautioned and later apologised, saying it wasn't intentional.
And the rest of the season was a dream for Mings and Villa, who rode a ten-game winning run into the Championship play-offs, from where they earned promotion with a 2-1 win over Derby County in the final.
Mings duly signed for Villa permanently last summer, for an initial fee of £20m, which could rise to £25m - a far cry from that measly £10k which Town paid for him in 2012!
This season, he's been a rock at the heart of defence for a Villa side who are holding their own at football's top table, prompting his England call-up and subsequent debut last night.
As befitting a man who has shown nothing but class his entire career, Mings handled the appalling racist abuse of the crowd in Bulgaria which marred his debut with his usual style.
He said: "It did not affect my feelings one bit. I felt a bit sorry for the people that have these views.
"I feel it is not a reflection of the views of the whole country and I feel that the appropriate steps were taken.
"It didn't affect my feeling but I was aware that we had to follow the right protocols, and not think it does not affect me so I won't report it.
"I have a duty to people that don't have a voice or that perhaps are abused and it does hurt or get to them. I don't know why it does not affect me, it just doesn't."
While he's not been a Town player for four years, Tyrone Mings will always be a Blue in the hearts of the Portman Road faithful - and Town fans will watch on with pride as he continues his journey to the top of the sport.