England goalkeeper credits farming roots for his success

From farm boy working on his parents’ farm in Cumbria, to mixing it in the Premier League with some of the world’s most iconic footballers, it’s been a meteoric rise to stardom for James Trafford.

The Burnley and England shot-stopper is currently one of the hottest young goalkeepers in world football and a number of big clubs are said to be chasing his signature.

James, 21, was included in Gareth Southgate’s preliminary squad to play for the senior England team in the Euros in Germany, which starts on Friday (14 June).

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Despite missing out on the final squad of 26, James is on standby in case of injuries to the three selected goalkeepers, which could yet see him on the plane to Germany.

“There was a little bit of disappointment that I had not been picked, but the three goalies who are going are massively talented,” he says.

“Hopefully, the experience will help me when the next major tournament comes round in two years’ time.”

James believes his farming upbringing has been pivotal to his successful career in professional football. He was raised on the family farm near Cockermouth in Cumbria, which is still run by his parents, Alison and James Trafford Snr.

Despite moving to Manchester to focus on his footballing career, James is in touch with his rural roots and still calls the farm “home”.

A down-to-earth and humble character, his favourite things include his mum’s home cooking (it has to be a roast dinner), hanging out with his childhood friends, or changing tyres with his best mate Spencer Fulton, a farmer and mechanic who works for his dad at Lakeland Trailers & Services.

Growing up on a farm with access to grass fields to have kickabouts with his friends or older sister Charlotte, James says he was destined to become either a farmer or a footballer.

Talent spotted

He was spotted playing grassroots football for Cockermouth by Carlisle United and initially played in midfield before he volunteered to go in goal aged nine.

“If my dad didn’t take me to football, he’d always put my gloves in the car with my mum just in case I was ever a goalie,” James recalls. “Luckily, I said, ‘yeah, I’ll go in goal,’ and I just stayed there.”

James signed for Manchester City aged 12 in August 2015 and spent eight years at the club.

James Trafford age 12

James, aged 12, on the family farm after joining Manchester City’s academy as a goalkeeper © Tom Kay

After successful loan spells at Accrington Stanley and Bolton Wanderers and keeping a record six clean sheets to help England win the U21 European Championship last summer, Burnley paid Manchester City £15m for him with £4m in add-ons in July 2023.

He says his first season playing for the Clarets in the Premier League was an “incredible experience”.

Burnley’s first game was at Turf Moor against Man City on 11 August. James says he planned to ease his way into the game with a few touches or a save.

“The first time I actually touched the ball in the Prem was picking the ball out of the back of the net from [Erling] Haaland,” he laughs.

“Talk about a difficult introduction! It’s the best league in the world for a reason. Every game is so tough. The talent in the league is unbelievable; bigger than anyone can understand unless you’ve played in it.”

James says he and Burnley “gave it their best shot”, but it just wasn’t enough to avoid relegation.

“They weren’t always good experiences. There were a lot of tough times,” he admits. “But you grow the most in the tough times. I honestly wouldn’t have changed anything for the world.”

Battling the elements 

James says his farming background helps him in training and games, especially during difficult moments. “You draw on it the most in the tough times. You know, when it’s nailing down outside and you really can’t be bothered,” he says.

“Every farmer knows that regardless of the weather, you still have to go out. You still have to work all day. You just have to do your job and do it as best as you can.

“That sort of upbringing, seeing my mum and dad graft as hard as they can, has always stuck with me.”

James and his dad in tractor cab

James in the cab with dad, David © The Trafford family

James says playing in goal carries a lot of responsibility and, like farming, the decisions you make can have a huge bearing on the outcome.

“Being a goalkeeper is tough. You’re the only one who wears a different coloured kit. Even that on its own, you stand out,” he notes.

“Like farming, goalkeeping can be a really lonely place. But it’s also a really good position on the pitch because you have that sense of importance and you try and keep everything together.

“You’re the base of it all, like a quarterback. Especially how we played at Burnley, a lot of our patterns of play started with the goalkeeper.”

Photo in FW

James says one of his proudest moments as a boy came when Farmers Weekly published a photo of him in the magazine, aged eight.

Aged 12 to 16, James used to love coming home from school to work on the farm, helping his mum feed the sheep, or his dad at harvest.

These days, however, his involvement on the farm is minimal due to his busy footballing career.

“Sometimes, I’ll challenge dad to see who can push a bale the furthest. That’s about it,” he laughs.