UNLIKE 1966 when England were expected to win the World Cup on home soil, the advance of Gareth Southgate’s youthful side to the semi-final in Russia is unexpected.
Yet there is one striking similarity with Sir Alf Ramsey’s heroes. Like the ‘Boys of ‘66’, this special ‘Band of Brothers’ do not appear to have lost touch with their roots.
Though they’re in a privileged position to play in the Premier League, this generation – epitomised by the example set by seven Yorkshire-born players – have served their apprenticeship in the less glamorous lower leagues where there’s a special affinity between players and supporters that Southgate has, to his credit, harnessed quite brilliantly.
Take goalkeeping hero Jordan Pickford. Though he now plays for Everton, he came through the ranks at Sunderland and a season-long loan at Bradford City was integral to him getting the experience that he needed and he has not forgotten this.
A tribute to football’s loan system, and its importance, it’s also testament to the Blair government’s decision to invest in sport when it successfully bid for the 2012 Olympics.
These players have all benefitted from school PE lessons – Harry Maguire’s primary school in Sheffield are particularly proud of the defender’s achievements – and it is to be hoped that the national euphoria surrounding the ‘Three Lions’ does extend to further support for all grassroots sport.
But there’s one other link between the 1966 and 2018 World Cup squads. Every player, and member of the support staff, recognises that the letter ‘I’ does not feature in the word ‘team’.