Harry Maguire, John Stones and Kalvin Phillips - a strong Yorkshire equalls a defensively-strong England
Five of the 26 players in Gareth Southgate’s squad were born in the Broad Acres and came through one (or more) of its academies. Four will more than likely start tomorrow’s final against Italy at Wembley.
But the links to Yorkshire go way beyond that.
Yesterday the Football Association circulated a map showing how its players have come through grassroots clubs all around the country. This is by no means a Yorkshire team, just a team Yorkshire can proudly say it has made a big contribution to.
On top of Kyle Walker, John Stones, Harry Maguire, Kalvin Phillips and Dominic Calvert-Lewin – worked hard on by local volunteers before the professionals got hold of them – Aaron Ramsdale was born in Stoke but currently plays for Sheffield United, having come through their academy, left and returned.
It is not just playing careers our part of the world has started. It was Middlesbrough chairman Steve Gibson who decided to give one of his most experienced and intelligent players a crack in management, and whilst Southgate’s Boro were relegated in his third and final year, important lessons were learned.
Joining as a player in 2001 brought the man from Watford to live in Harrogate and he has made his home there since. His residential qualifications now completed, we can call him one of our own. He officially became an “honorary Yorkshireman” after leading England to the 2018 World Cup semi-final and we are lucky to have him, an exceptional leader in more than just a footballing sense.
Maybe it also explains his appreciation for Yorkshire footballers. That Elland Road was so close to a home town heavy with Leeds fans perhaps helped Southgate’s visits to watch Phillips and loanee Ben White play Championship football before they were on the radars of the wider footballing cognoscenti.
With ever more prodigiously-talented youngsters swallowed up by the biggest academies, Football League clubs are increasingly important in polishing their diamonds. White is one of six squad members to have been on loan at Yorkshire clubs. Stones spent 10 years learning the game at local club Barnsley but when it comes to first-team appearances, Kieran Trippier made more at Oakwell via two loan spells.
The backroom is also full of experiences honed here.
Former Huddersfield Town manager Chris Powell is part of Southgate’s brain’s trust, and ex-Terriers goalkeeper Martyn Margetson charged with preparing Jordan Pickford (a one-time Bradford City loanee), Sam Johnstone (loaned to Doncaster Rovers) and Ramsdale. The most recent addition was ex-Bridlington Town and Doncaster striker Graeme Jones.
Then there are the unseen physios, psychologists, analysts and therapists no self-respecting professional football team would do without nowadays who served their time at Yorkshire clubs and often universities.
Beyond one more thing to boast about if Harry Kane (not one of ours) lifts the trophy, does it actually mean anything? It has not been lost on many that the Yorkshiremen are very heavily loaded at one end of the pitch. England are built on rock-solid defensive foundations, conceding once in the tournament.
Four of the five Yorkies are essentially defensive, Ramsdale is a goalkeeper, and the loanees consist of four defenders and two goalkeepers.
Centre-forward Dominic Calvert-Lewin, born in Sheffield and brought up through the Sheffield United academy, is the odd one out, which probably explains why he will be the only Yorkshireman sweating on making the bench.
It feels like a lazy stereotype to say this team is so tight defensively because of its Yorkshire influence, but the only England side to win the World Cup had just one man from the county, and Sheffield-born Gordon Banks was the world’s best goalkeeper.
His Yorkshire-based team-mates back in the 1966 World Cup were Huddersfield Town full-back Ray Wilson and Leeds United centre-back Jack Charlton. The other in the squad was Charlton’s centre-back partner at club level, Norman Hunter. Maybe in football “Strong Yorkshire, strong England” should be “Strong Yorkshire, defensively strong England”.
Sadly, such has been the state of our football in the Premier League era that Stones felt he had to leave Barnsley, Walker and Calvert-Lewin moved on from Sheffield United, and Maguire – who started there – left Hull City to progress. It is hard to argue they are not better for it.
The signs Leeds can re-emerge as a footballing powerhouse perhaps explain why hometown midfielder Phillips is the only Yorkshireman actually playing for a Yorkshire club. The demise of the Sheffield clubs last season was demoralising, and others from the county are punching beneath their weight too.
Next week Yorkshire clubs at all levels should be ramming home to schoolchildren and young professionals alike that this is the place to learn the game.
The ambition must be that the next England team to reach a major final has just as many Yorkshire-born players, but does a better job of hanging onto them.
The Yorkshire Connection
Plays for Leeds United since 2015
Played for Sheffield United (2011-14) and Hull City (2014-17), spent time in Barnsley’s academy
Played for Sheffield United 2008-09, plus loan in 2009-10
Played for Barnsley 2011-13
Played for Sheffield United 2015-16
Plays for Sheffield United. Rejoined in 2020 after first spell 2016-17
Loan spell at Sheffield United 2013-14 and Huddersfield Town 2014-15
Two loan spells at Barnsley 2010-11
Two loan spells at Doncaster Rovers 2014-15
Loan spell at Leeds United 2019-20
Loan spell at Bradford City 2014-15
Loan spell at Huddersfield Town 2015-16
Lives in Harrogate, played for and managed Middlesbrough 2001-09
GRAEME JONES (coach)
Played for Bridlington Town 1992-93 and Doncaster Rovers 1993-96
MARTYN MARGETSON (goalkeeping coach)
Played for Huddersfield Town 1999-2002
CHRIS POWELL (coach)
Managed Huddersfield Town 2014-15
IAN MITCHELL (psychologist)
Sports scientist at Sheffield United 1994-96
STEVE KEMP (physio)
Leeds United academy physio 2000-01
BEN MORTLOCK (soft tissue)
Hull City 2014-17, Graduate of Sheffield Hallam and Teesside Universities
CHRIS MEEK (analyst)
Analyst at Leeds United 2014-18, graduate of Leeds Metropolitan and Leeds Beckett universities