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World Cup – Leon Wobschall: From Barnsley and Crewe to the cusp of a World Cup final

England's Harry Maguire, from Sheffield, celebrates scoring his side's first goal of the game with John Stones, from Barnsley, during the FIFA World Cup, quarter-final with Sweden (Picture: Owen Humphreys/PA)
England's Harry Maguire, from Sheffield, celebrates scoring his side's first goal of the game with John Stones, from Barnsley, during the FIFA World Cup, quarter-final with Sweden (Picture: Owen Humphreys/PA)
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IN A couple of decades a group of ex-footballers – some greyer around the temples, some rather more rotund – will converge upon a comfortable sofa, perhaps with a nice glass of wine or a tumbler of malt as an extra companion.

The cameras will roll and the recollections will flow like vintage claret as Jeff Stelling, Gary Newbon – or some other broadcaster of that ilk – opens up the memory vault. England 2018: The Time of Our Lives.

This current England football team and latest band of sporting brothers to enchant the public are leaving an indelible mark on the psyche of this country, just as their predecessors memorably did in 1990 and 1966.

Just as their rugby cousins also did in 2003 and their cricketing colleagues two years later. They are in esteemed company and will be similarly remembered.

This may help convey the sense of achievement by a group of young sportsmen rich in spirit and togetherness and wonderfully low in entitlement – laced with a fair bit of talent, too.

And led by an impressive man of immense humility in manager Gareth Southgate, who has taken England to their first World Cup semi-final since 1990.

England's Harry Maguire (right) spent years at Sheffield United and Hull City while England captain Harry Kane was sent on loan to the lower leagues by Tottenham on numerous occasions (Picture: PA)

England's Harry Maguire (right) spent years at Sheffield United and Hull City while England captain Harry Kane was sent on loan to the lower leagues by Tottenham on numerous occasions (Picture: PA)

The bonhomie, television footage, documentaries, books, plays – maybe even a film – is for the future.

This is the here and now for a body of individuals on their greatest adventure.

The next destination is Moscow’s Luzhniki Stadium as they strive to book England a place in the World Cup final for the first time in 52 years. Possibly greater riches beckon, too.

England’s story so far in Russia has been one of responsibility, maturity, progression and, remarkably, calmness.

Dues have been paid and it is something that Southgate has been quick to pay homage to. Never forget your roots, as England’s leader plainly has not.

Leon Wobschall

A refreshingly celebrity-free team firmly in the zone, but also one with the humbleness not to forget where they have come from.

This makes their current achievements all the more charming and uplifting.

The footballing roots of this side can be traced to places such as Sheffield, Barnsley, Milton Keynes, Watford, Crewe and Croydon.

It is a collective of players and coaches who have grafted for everything they have got and sampled cold, wet Tuesday nights in November in Bury and Scunthorpe and the muck-and-nettles side of the game.

England's Dele Alli, in action against Sweden's Emil Forsberg (left), made his debut while on loan at MK Dons. (Picture: Adam Davy/PA)

England's Dele Alli, in action against Sweden's Emil Forsberg (left), made his debut while on loan at MK Dons. (Picture: Adam Davy/PA)

England’s pin-up boy and captain Harry Kane made his first-ever competitive appearance for Leyton Orient at Rochdale, Saturday’s hero Jordan Pickford debuted for Darlington at home to Fleetwood in the Blue Square Premier, while goalscorer Dele Alli made his bow for MK Dons in a cup tie at Cambridge City.

Dues have been paid and it is something to which Southgate has been quick to pay homage. Never forget your roots, as England’s leader plainly has not.

Speaking late last week, Southgate, delivering another message that served to reinforce the respect and credibility he currently holds in the minds of his millions of his compatriots, broached the subject with an exquisite sense of timing.

On England’s current rise, the former Middlesbrough manager observed: “It is important we remember (England’s assistant manager) Steve Holland was at Crewe and I was at Crystal Palace when they were not quite as good as they are now. We have scrapped and fought our way.

“Most of our boys have played in the Championship or lower, whether they started there or played on loan there. We are having success because we are really grafting for each other – no passengers, nobody failing to close down, nobody strolling around.”

Games like Saturday are not supposed to happen for England. Not at knock-out tournaments at any rate. It was measured, proficient, solid, tournament-savvy and not starry. The Germans may have long since gone home, but this footballing performance was as Teutonic as laying out the beach towels at 8am.

Admittedly the route has been a relatively kind one so far. Tunisia, Panama, Colombia and Sweden. Just as it was for Germany in the World Cup of 2002 when Rudi Voeller’s side played Saudi Arabia, Ireland, Cameroon, Paraguay, USA and South Korea on their way to the final. Few are complaining.

Like that German side, this England team’s football has also possessed a purpose. No frills and not showy, but constructive, down to earth and business like.

It should surprise few who have followed England’s progress to learn that they have scored more goals from dead-ball situations than any other side at this summer’s finals, with just three out of their 11 total goals coming from open play.

That set-piece prowess is another doff of the cap to the assiduous and thoroughness of England’s staff who have refused to leave anything to chance. Processes being owned, from penalties to offensive corners.

And next up are Croatia for the next chapter on Wednesday evening. A team to be respected, for sure, but rest assured that the message from Southgate will have a willing ear among 23 earnest Englishmen loving their craft.

Whether it be on the pitch, on the training ground at Repino or in the media centre, England have been sure-footed and steadfast.

On we go, to Moscow.