SoccerBible Volumes is our new special edition publication – our biggest and bravest ever – taking on more of a tome feel at over 300 pages in length. Kicking off this new chapter with our Summer ‘21 ‘Utopia’ edition, we brought in Leeds United stalwart Kalvin Phillips for an in-depth chat ahead of this summer’s EURO 2020.

An enigmatic champion. Kalvin Phillips is a soul of almighty strength. Humble though confident all the same, he has experienced every element of football from it’s raw early stages through to it’s finished levels of supreme. A diamond chiseled with so much to give and every moment taken, it’s his words that speak with so much volume.

The Yorkshire Pirlo, what a pleasure. What a nickname to have as well… 

It's a good nickname. I've only had it for the last 2 years. It feels like there's a lot of love from the Leeds for me now. Even though at the start of my career it was a bit here and there. 

I guess, as much as Pirlo is a great name to have, you probably want to put your own name out there? 

Some people claim I’m “The Yorkshire Pirlo”. It's a great nickname but I would love to get my own name out there. For kids, where I play around Leeds and the team I play for, a lot of kids look up to me. It would be nice to be remembered as me. Kids playing on the street and using my name, that would be special.

When you think back to those memories of you as a kid, but before we get too deep into where you are now, tell us about Wortley. How fondly do you think back to those days? 

All the time, whenever I think about where I've come from and how well I've done - Wortley was a big part of that. Not just Wortley but even my school days where I used to go and play football. Wortley was a massive part of where I was growing up. I had younger brothers and sisters and I would go to school with them. I would always be thinking about football. Sometimes I do think back to what I was like when I was younger. What type of player I was and how much I have changed now. It always sticks in my mind and it's going to be something I remember forever. 

What were you like as a kid? How obsessed were you with football? Was it morning, noon and night? 

It was just every single day. Whenever I got a chance to go out before school, me and my brother would go and kick a football around. I didn't actually start playing properly until I was nine for Wortley Boys. I think even before then, before I can remember, me and my brother would always play football together. I joined Wortley when I was nine and then I never stopped. I never wanted to stop and just carried on doing it. 

Is that when you fell in love with football?

I've had some of the best times playing football when I was younger. My brother used to play for the same team and he was actually a better footballer than me but he just wanted to play with his friends and I wanted to be something more. Every time I see my brother we always think about the times when we were younger. It's nice to have such a close relationship with him.

I bet he looks up to you a hell of a lot. Even if it is just a year...

He is actually bigger than me as well. I call him my younger brother but he is massive. Kind of like my big younger brother.

kalvin phillips soccerbible magazine_0000_AdM-KP-PRESS-0017.jpg
kalvin phillips soccerbible magazine_0001_AdM-KP-PRESS-0020.jpg

What players were icons for you? What was it about them? Was it their personality as much as what they did on the pitch?

When I was young it was more the Leeds team that was doing really well. Mark Viduka, Alan Smith and all of the players like that. As I got older it was players like Ronaldinho. He was a player that played with a smile on his face all of the time. He used to love doing tricks. Players like Zidane too. When I was getting older, realising why I wanted to play and what position I wanted to play in, I was attracted to those sort of players. I think players like Ronaldinho and Zidane - I would love to play like them. Obviously I'm not like them now in terms of my game, but they were the ones that I would look up to.

What about summer tournaments like the World Cup and the Euros as a kid?

I can remember when there were a couple of World Cup’s on when I was at school. We had teachers that loved football as well. So, whatever chance they got to put on the football they were happy to do it. We loved it as younger kids, especially growing up and always wanting to be a footballer. Big tournaments come with nice weather and you're usually out, playing football with friends... you come home to watch a game and probably go back out to play football again. It was just football all of the time.

It's amazing how they just bring everyone together unlike anything else. Did you ever get England kits as a kid?

Always. I used to love England kits. Before an England kit, my first kit was a Leeds kit. My dad was an Arsenal supporter so he tried to get me to support Arsenal. I had a few Arsenal kits as well but then I went back to Leeds and got an England kit.

It’s always amazing how a football shirt can instantly unlock memories. Are you sentimental in that way?

A little bit. I've always wanted to keep the older kits when I was younger. I can remember the kit I had when Leeds had the Strongbow sponsor across the middle of the jersey. It was a yellow kit and I had Mark Viduka or Alan Smith on the back. I had the England kit from the Euros in 2004. It was the red one with Wayne Rooney on the back. Even though I wasn't a striker I used to love Wayne Rooney.

So much has happened to you since you signed that first professional deal with Leeds. You were so young but what has that ride been like?

It's been up and down. There have been as many downs as there have been many ups. After I signed my first professional contract I always thought that once I signed it I'm going to be here. I'm going to be playing and it wasn't like that.

At the club, at the time, it wasn't a great time for Leeds United. It was a constant change of managers and the owners were changing too. There was a lot of talk that the fans were not as close to the club as they should have been. It was a time after we had done so well in the Premier League and the Champions League. It wasn't a bad place to be around but if we were not doing well there would be a lot of pressure from the fans and the people above as well.

There were many downs but the last four or five years have been amazing for me personally and for the team. Especially with Marcelo coming in and a new owner coming in, changing how he runs the club, the coaching staff and the players that have come in. We have done well this year and hopefully we can push on and do even better next year.

kalvin phillips soccerbible magazine_0004_AdM-KP-PRESS-9807.jpg
phillips 2-min.jpg

How would you say your character has changed, in terms of pre-signing to where you are now mentally?

Mentally I am probably just the same. I've always wanted to play football, I've always wanted to do the best for myself and for my family. There were times in between signing my first contract to now where I didn't want to come to training. There were times where the team wouldn't be doing well. There would be games where you think “I don't want to play this game.” It's part of the ups and downs of a football player.

As a club we changed managers so many times it was very hard to get your foot in the door and keep progressing as a football player. Five years ago Garry Monk came in. I was looking at going out on loan that season and then he played me for 38 games out of 40. Something crazy like that... and I've never really looked back since then. That was huge for me.

How do you measure your success? What are those things that have meant the most to you emotionally?

When I look back to when we had a chance to get promoted into the Premier League a few years ago and we didn't quite make it through the playoffs. It was heartbreaking and that was probably one of the worst feelings I've had as a football player ever. Just to be so close and to do so well throughout the year – mentally it was tough as well.

After that you just want to get away from football and relax. Then there was talk about me moving clubs and stuff like that. I am very family orientated so whatever was going on around me and my family we spoke about as well. It wasn't just my decision that influenced me to stay at Leeds, it was my family as well and they are a big part of me. Staying at Leeds and getting promoted the year after that was probably the highest I've ever felt as a football player. Then eventually getting called up by England was also up there with the best.

Your family is obviously close. Your grandmother looked like an incredible human being and was so close to you. It must be great to have have been able to make your family so proud?

With my gran, she has passed now but everything I did was for her, my mum, brothers and sisters. Now I look back at why I started doing it for them. Even though my gran is not here in person she is here in spirit. I'm always going to do it for her and my mother especially. She has been through a lot from when I was younger. My brothers and sisters have been through the same childhood as me - we're all in it together.

My best mates are my friends and people I have always been with and I've not had new people come into the circle. With friends it has always been me and my circle of friends who have always been around me, my family as well. They are the people that always push me and I want to do better than what I am doing now. I've got a best friend who owns a curtains and blinds business, he texts me every other week and says “I'm so proud of you and you make me want to do even better for myself. Seeing you do well makes me want to do well.” I want to be remembered for helping people. 

It's so important to surround yourself with the right people. Especially in football. Who are those people? Those mentors that you turn to celebrate with? Or when you need some support?

My grandma was one of those rocks, and my mum. I've had a girlfriend for 12 years. I've always been with the same girlfriend and she has been there since day one. I have a twin sister, a younger brother, another younger sister and I just enjoy having them all around me. Going through the stuff that I have been through, the highs of football and being there with them, experiencing it with them and especially my friends as well.

I am a person that keeps my friends close to my chest and they are the people that I love doing this for. If we are not doing something on a certain weekend I will take them all out to eat and we just enjoy ourselves. It's like a close family, even my friends. Even though they are not family related I class them as family.

phillips 1-min.jpg

Fast forward and here you are with seven England caps to your name. What happens to your world when you get that call? At that point your life must change and move into a different chapter?

I didn't really realise what an England call-up could do for a player. Not just confidence-wise but you get noticed everywhere you go. Whether you're a football fan or not, it's because you play for England they know who you are and what you look like. Even fans from other teams - you will get noticed by them. I mentioned the Yorkshire Tea in an advert when I was away with England. Then as soon as I got back I had a big pack of Yorkshire Tea in the post. It's crazy what it can do. The confidence it can give you as a player is just phenomenal.

So with every interview now you mention Lamborghini.....

I've been thinking about doing that [laughs]. I mentioned Yorkshire Tea a few times and they sent me some tea bags and that's all.

You come across as a really humble guy. Those international changes – being picked up by a chauffeur driven car and taken to St. George's Park – it's got to be a different step into the Elite?

Definitely. I've never had that and the first time that happened I was a bit shell-shocked. So there have been times where I was offered lifts to go to training by parents, to now actually have my own car to take me to training to St. George's park, back from Wembley – it's weird. When you think back to it and how far I have come as a football player and as a person, it's just hard to get used to. I still think I will struggle with stuff like that happening.

I guess it’s similar when you go from the Championship to the Premier League? Are they just two completely different words?

They are yes. Especially for Leeds as a city, as a fanbase, us getting back to the Premier League everybody knows who you are. Everybody around the city looks up to you. You have young kids where, every time I drive up and down the street, they start following my car. They want to say hello and stuff like that. But it’s just nice.

I knew that big players went through stuff like this but I never thought that it would happen to me. It's a good feeling, especially with the young kids remembering me. Coming and asking for autographs, I actually love it. I wouldn't say no to any of the kids ever.

With that it's so mad to think if you are driving somewhere, wind down the window and say hello to a kid, and that's their year made…

Recently just before a game I was driving to the training ground, and two kids were walking home from school and I stopped at some traffic lights. I wound my window down to let some air in and the kids were looking at me like "Oh my god there's Kalvin Phillips." I asked them if they had a nice day at school and as soon as you speak to them they just go quiet. I said "Have a nice day lads enjoy yourselves" and just carried on. I love stuff like that because that is what I would be like as a young kid. If I had seen any footballer that's how I would have been as a young kid.

phillips 4-min.jpg
phillips 3-min.jpg

Now that you’re in the Premier League does it reset the standards in terms of what you want to achieve in your career?

When I was in the Championship my aim was to get promoted and always do the best I could. Even when Leeds were not fighting for promotion and were a mid-table team. I always did the best I could and get the best from what I am able to do. Eventually we did get promoted and I was aware that a club can change from promotion.

It's a lot different to what it is in the Championship and you do reset. As you get to the premier League you want more and you want to to play more games. We are in the top 10, as we speak in the league and we are going into training thinking we are going to win every game we can. Whether that means staying in the top 10, making the Europa League or the Champions League in the next couple of seasons. It’s endless on what you actually think is possible and what targets you set.

It sounds cliche but you have to keep dreaming in that respect. Especially when you have games like against Manchester United and people are saying you’ve shut down one of the greatest players on the planet, in Bruno Fernandes…

A lot of people have been saying that and I don't really think of it like that. It was a game where we wanted to do well and my job was Bruno. I can remember him saying, I think it was about the 70th minute, he looked over his shoulder and I was still in his face. He just sighed and said "You are following me everywhere." I saw him in the car park afterwards and he was talking to one of our players. He had his head in the window and then I said bye to our players. He turned around, looked at me and said "He's here again!"

Marking him back home and ushering him down the motorway…

It was a great experience to play against Bruno. Especially to do well and gain the respect of top players. When you do well against them they realise that you are not there just to be walked all over.

It will stand you in good stead as well for the summer. Things like that must continually build confidence? Do you feel, without sounding egotistical, unbeatable after moments like that, because it must spur you on a lot?

Not necessarily, because I know there's always something that may not go my way. I feel that where I have come from, where I have been before and where I am now, the step has been huge. There's still a lot of steps to be made and when I have performances like that everybody raves about it. It's the next one that matters. We play Brighton away at the weekend and if I play well nobody really recognises it. It's always been about Leeds United against Manchester United. I play the best I can and every single game and the Euros are coming up, so hopefully I can be in contention to be involved in that.

It sounds like the steps you are making you make really easy. Away from the pitch as more people see you, read about you and praise you, how do you cope with that as a human being? Because they are big steps aren't they?

I know the steps of being quite big from when I first came in. I don't really think of it like that. I get on with what I have to do. I know that I have to do well for the team, myself and more for my family. If I am playing Manchester United I will cover every single blade of grass because my family are there to support me. There are no fans there but my family will give me stick if I don't.

What about as your profile rises? As you say all those experiences that you have had lately, post England, with the more you achieve, do you feel like you're getting into a position where you want to use your profile and your voice more? Does that become more conscious?

It depends really. I want to use my profile and my voice in the right ways. There are things which need to be spoken about. Things that I've had relations with that I can speak about. I'm more than happy to use my profile to do that and especially with racism. It is big and I think it is important to use my voice but use it in the right way.

Would you like people to think of Kalvin Phillips as someone who is deeper than just a footballer?

For me Leeds is my city. I've come from Leeds, I've always been, lived and played for Leeds. I want to be remembered for helping kids and for being the guy that was integral to Leeds United as a football club. Just if anybody wanted to go out on the street and do something nice, like helping a homeless person, for example, that stuff that I love doing. Anything to do with the community I am more than happy to help. I want to do more and more.

Are there people that you take a lot of inspiration from, perhaps outside of football that you have seen doing great things?

I'm not really good at basketball but I'll probably say LeBron James. He is a massive icon for me as a sporting icon. Just in a way that he is. He came from Cleveland karma played for his hometown club, won a championship with them and then built a school to help the community as much as possible. He still does that now. We are very different athletes, we are on a different level, but his path is kind of similar to mine. I've watched lots of documentaries about him and I've watched a lot of basketball games as well. He is just a person, an athlete, a human that I look up to and aspire to be like.

Even that is a tip of the iceberg. To show that it's not just saying "I like LeBron James" you obviously back it up knowing plenty about him.

He wears the number 23 as well!

There you go! Have you managed to get to any NBA games over the years?

No I've not. I think I was in America last year and LA were going to be in the final. That's where I was but I never actually got to get to go to any of the games. Then this year, with covid, we have not been able to get away. Obviously I would love to go to an NBA game but I'm just going to bide my time and hopefully if it comes, it comes.

What do you make of LA? One hell of a lifestyle off there...

It's crazy. I don't think I'll be able to live there to be honest. I will just be out eating every other night. It's a lovely place and I have been to Vegas and Miami as well. I think America is a great place.

Where's the next destination that you have in mind post the Euros?

Me and my girlfriend have spoke about going to Kenya. We love animals, we have three dogs and you have safaris over there. That is something we have always wanted to do.

Touching on going to LA and Kenya, you are starting to build a picture of the stuff you are into outside of football. The way that you style yourself and carry yourself do you like to express yourself in that kind of way?

It depends really. On the football pitch I do that anyway. Outside of football I'm just me. I dress how I dress and I act how I act. If people like me great and if they don't it's not going to kill or hurt me. I just want to be as friendly as possible to anybody that I meet. Especially in football I want a lot of people to look up to me and not just being a football player but a generally nice person.

In terms of expression, with your tattoos, there is a creative edge to you. Is that a way that you like to channel energy?

I think so. There's a lot of things that footballers can and can't do. With my tattoos it is more remembrance. I have my little sister on my arm who passed away. I've got family members on my arm and I'm going to get my grandmother on this arm as well. It's all about expressing my memories and stuff that I feel strongly about.

It’s really great and you are not afraid to show your character. To let people in and show people who you are. Are you someone that really believes in that? How important it is to tell people that it's ok to show who they are effectively?

I am massive on that. I'm a person that is very confident in myself. I think that if I walked into a room full of people that I didn't know you would look at me and think "Why is he being so quiet?" I am who I am and I always say to to people that it's important to not be afraid of expressing who you are. Don't be scared if you feel a little bit shy. It doesn't really matter as long as you are true to yourself and you respect others. Regardless of whether they are expecting you it doesn't really matter. For people to express themselves I think it is massive for the next generation. There are so many things going on with social media and all of the racial abuse. It's good to help people and something I want to do more of. Hopefully I can.

With the lifestyle element of it you look at the NBA and how fashion is embraced there, in terms of pre-game and all of that stuff too, football is in an exciting place if it can embrace that kind of culture as well.

NBA is a massive worldwide sport as well as football. I watch a lot of NBA and football. There are little differences. You have videos of NBA players walking into the stadium and have got ridiculous gear on. They are showing off who they are as people and it's different with football in England. Maybe one day I might be like that or maybe not. But it would be nice.

Looking to the other side of covid, it is like a ground zero I suppose. How would you like the game to change for the better?

To make it a safe place for everybody. No matter who you play for, how bad you are playing, what you look like or what your beliefs are. We spoke about the social media blackout and I think it is massively important. If it is going to help others deal with people that are sending abuse then we should all buy into it, especially for the next generation. I think there are a lot of kids with social media. When I was younger I don’t think I got a phone until I was 10 or 11. It was fresh and free and I just want it to be like that for them. As of now they don't know what it's going to be like.

Final question then. England and the Euros. You can already see how it makes you feel visually. What would that moment be like for you just to be included in that squad? Knowing that you are going to the tournament?

It's hard to explain, I just got goosebumps when you said it. It would be an amazing feeling. It's coming up soon and I'm just excited more than anything. I'm not nervous, I don't think I will be. I won't be nervous until I step out onto the pitch. It's more exciting and if it doesn't happen then I'm always going to work hard to try and get into the next one, which is the World Cup.

Hopefully I do get called up but the main thing is to go there and do my best for my country. It would be an honour as well. I've never played in a major tournament, I've played in big games but a major tournament is totally different. It's come at a time where we have been struggling a lot with covid. I think this tournament has come at the right time and I think it's time for everyone to come together. We can enjoy the football and hopefully have our fans in as well.

rug 10-min.jpg

Photographer: Alex de Mora

Assistant: Ollo Weguelin

Stylist: Holly Macdonald

Stylist assistant: Mh'ya Mclean

HMU: Roxanna Gillani

Pick up a copy of SoccerBible 'Volumes' – Summer ‘21 ‘Utopia’ Edition exclusively at