When England inevitably bow out bravely on penalties in the semi-finals of this summer’s European Championship, holding a sense of patriotic pride in a vice-like grip like a fan clutching a St George’s flag, who will the nation be thanking for the achievement?
Manager Roy Hodgson? Skipper Wayne Rooney? No, England should be pouring praise on South Yorkshire and North Derbyshire for providing about a fifth of the entire squad.
While we as a region have been able to look upon men and women in other sports such as Jessica Ennis-Hill, Kell Brook, Joe Root and more recently Danny Willett and Matt Fitzpatrick with a sense of honour and marvel at their achievements, we haven’t been quite so prolific in producing top class footballers with the ability to grace the international stage. Certainly, there can’t have been a time when so many have come through at the same time. So later this month there will be an extra reason - if needed - to get behind this crop of England players with five of them hailing from these parts.
The prolific Sheffield-born Jamie Vardy, now world famous due to his Roy of the Rovers-style rise from non-league Stocksbridge Park Steels to Premier League winner with Leicester City, is joined by another Steel City boy Kyle Walker, formerly of Sheffield United and enjoying a revitalised career over the past 12 months at Tottenham.
Then there’s Gary Cahill from Dronfield, leading the defence with potentially Everton’s prodigiously talented John Stones from Barnsley playing alongside him. And still in that back four, Walker’s Spurs team mate Danny Rose, born and bred in Doncaster, will be fighting for a left back position after he too came to prominance during Tottenham’s campaign.
Only Yorkshire as a stand-alone county and the addition of James Milner can boast a similar concentration of international talent. Four were born in London - Harry Kane, Chris Smalling, Ryan Bertrand and Nathaniel Clyne - and though Raheem Sterling was raised in Wembley, he was born in Kingston, Jamaica. The north west also provides four with new boy Marcus Rashford from Wythenshawe joined by Tom Heaton from Chester and scousers Rooney and Ross Barkley. We’re leading the way and maybe, just maybe these five Lions can bring hope that a semi-final isn’t just the height of the summer dreams.