The Three Yorkshiremen: John Stones, Kalvin Phillips and Kyle Walker
When Kalvin Phillips finds himself lauded on Italian television as “the Yorkshire Pirlo”, you realise that the White Rose has become as much a feature of this European Championship as it has of the Olympics. Where “God’s own country” ranked a nominal 12th on the medal table at London 2012, above Spain and Brazil, it has also yielded the core of an England team who are building an unfamiliar reputation for resilience.
Besides the success of Phillips, John Stones, Kyle Walker and Harry Maguire in cementing regular starting places under Gareth Southgate, fellow Tyke Dominic Calvert-Lewin is waiting in reserve. A map published by the Football Association reflects how this is an England squad spanning every corner of the kingdom, from Sunderland-reared Jordan Pickford to Poole-born Ben White. But it is Yorkshire, increasingly, that is the powerbase.
Where Southgate’s stars were born
Take one look at the first-choice defence: while Walker grew up in Sheffield, Maguire learnt his craft in Mosborough just as Stones perfected his in Barnsley, 20 miles up the road.
It is the rising influence of Phillips, proud product of Leeds, that has been England’s most refreshing discovery of the tournament so far. Already, the effect of his match-winning display against Croatia has been in stark evidence at Wortley, on Leeds’s western fringes, where he cut his teeth for seven years before Marcelo Bielsa made him a superstar at Elland Road.
“He is idolised here,” says Stuart Haley, Wortley’s chairman. “No matter where else he goes in his career, that is going to be the case. We have kids turning up to training, wearing their own leisurewear with the name Phillips on the back, even to the point of where they are copying his hairstyle. It shows the affection in which he is held. He has some cousins who still play in our open-age group, and he came down two years ago to the West Riding FA ground to watch them in the final, before presenting the trophies. The people of Leeds have really taken to him. He sees that, and realises he needs to do well.”
Perhaps it is not surprising that Southgate displays such faith in the Yorkshire system. He has lived just outside Harrogate for the past 20 years, having enjoyed his greatest success at Middlesbrough, technically still part of North Yorkshire even if most residents today call themselves Teessiders. Asked once what he most loved about the county, he replied: “The people and their hard-working, no-nonsense attitude, good values, honesty and a humility that shines through. All those things I associate with.”
The England manager was named an honorary Yorkshireman in 2018, with the citation acclaiming his “courage, determination and insistence on doing things his own way – all true Yorkshire qualities”. In few realms is Yorkshire’s sense of itself as being an outlier seen so vividly as in football. Just three years ago, it created its own international football team, successfully applying to join the Confederation of Independent Football Associations, a body recognising disputed territories, diasporas, and de facto states not recognised by Fifa. The membership list was quite the sight: Greenland, Tibet, Abkhazia, Northern Cyprus – and Yorkshire.
Euro 2021 TEAM GUIDE
Phil Hegarty, the project’s founding father, always insisted it was no mere PR stunt. For acceptance, the team needed to provide hard academic proof of the strength of identity in Yorkshire, using a University of Huddersfield study to show people in the county “overwhelmingly” thought of themselves as being from Yorkshire before England, and to underline the region’s linguistic disparities with the rest of the country. Ryan Farrell, the team’s Bradford-based manager, explained how he wanted to instill the signature Yorkshire virtues of “grit and fight”.
These are traits that Southgate has drawn in abundance from his hardy Yorkshire perennials. He turned Maguire from a travelling fan at Euro 2016 into a goalscorer at a World Cup quarter-final. He trusts so implicitly in Stones that he quickly forgave the centre-back for a grisly lapse against Poland in March, explaining: “It would have been easy to fold – and John didn’t.” Now, in the shape of Phillips, another gamble on Yorkshire strength of character is paying off.
Back at Wortley, they would like their contribution to England’s success to be more clearly rewarded. “Every grassroots club is struggling for playing fields,” Haley argues. “The other day, our girls played a semi-final on grass that was uncut and not marked. We can’t stand by and accept that being the standard. Kalvin making it is a godsend. This way, we can show the council how the grassroots are helping the professional game, how we are highlighting Yorkshire as a region.”
If this new-look England do go deep into Euro 2020, we can look back at Wortley’s Blue Hill Lane ground as one of the places where it all began.
Footballers would come to watch me bat
By Sir Geoffrey Boycott
Don Revie was in charge of the great Leeds United side of the 1970s before he took the England job
Credit: GETTY IMAGES
There is a reason why so many talented England footballers come from Yorkshire – it is because it is the best place in the world.
No doubt about it. Yorkshire produces great people in all walks of life, not just in sport but music, culture – you name it.
It is good to see so many of us in the England football team at the moment, although it is slightly odd when you consider that our football teams have struggled for the past few years.
Leeds United are doing well now in the Premier League but are nothing like the great side of the 1970s under Don Revie, and clubs such as Sheffield Wednesday and Sheffield United are struggling. Barnsley have had their ups and downs in recent years as well.
Most of our best players end up playing for clubs in Lancashire, such as Liverpool, Manchester City and my team, Manchester United, who I have been following since Sir Matt Busby was in charge in the 1960s – now, that was a team.
When I was playing for Yorkshire, the footballers would come to watch me bat. I met Brian Clough when he was playing for Middlesbrough and Sunderland, and he came to watch me play for Yorkshire at Scarborough.
Brian loved his cricket and would also pop over to see me play at Trent Bridge when was manager of Nottingham Forest. Now, he was a great man – he was born in Middlesbrough and played for Sunderland, but he is someone we would have been proud to call a Yorkshireman.