As Phil Jones jetted off to Euro 2012 as part of Roy Hodgson’s England squad Jordan Pickford was finishing a season in the Conference Premier with Darlington.
Nick Pope was one rung lower, ending a season that had started in the Isthmian League Premier Division for Harrow Borough with sixth-tier Welling United.
Both Pope and Pickford watched Jamie Vardy score 31 goals to help Fleetwood Town out of non-league football and into the glitz and glamour of away trips to Rochdale and Morecambe in the Football League.
Fast forward six years and Jones, Pope, Pickford and Vardy are all part of the same England World Cup squad heading to Russia.
But Pickford and Pope aren’t alone in seeing lower league pipe dreams transform into World Cup ambitions.
A quick glance at Gareth Southgate’s 23-man squad reveals that 18 members have played outside of the Premier League.
Ruben Loftus-Cheek, Raheem Sterling, Phil Jones, Marcus Rashford and Trent Alexander-Arnold are the lucky ones to have maintained their Premier League status since making their first-team debuts, although Sterling spent seven years in QPR’s academy.
Eric Dier is a special case as he came through Sporting CP’s academy, playing in the Portuguese second division for their reserve side.
However it isn’t quite as cut and dry as the haves and the have nots.
Pickford was on the books of Sunderland and was an England Under-18 international when he arrived on loan at Darlington.
He was in the same youth teams as Sterling, Nathaniel Chalobah and Nathan Redmond, so it wasn’t like he was playing for his mortgage every week.
Pope was also a highly-rated youngster during his spell in non-league footballer, with Charlton paying a compensation package to take him from Bury Town in 2011.
Vardy’s case is different as the Leicester striker worked his way back up the leagues after being released by Sheffield Wednesday.
Whatever way you look at it, England’s World Cup squad is a triumph for the loan system.
All three of England’s goalkeepers learned the dark arts of dealing with crosses in League Two.
Jack Butland went on loan from Birmingham to Cheltenham Town before arriving in the Premier League with Stoke.
Jordan Henderson, who could well be England’s captain in Russia, has gone on record to talk about how important his loan spell at Coventry was.
He told the Daily Star: “I was playing every week for a good club. They were doing very well in the Championship and I loved every minute of it.
“I felt it helped me progress as a player. I’ve been given extra responsibility at my club and now with England, too.”
Harry Kane, Kieran Trippier, Gary Cahill, Jesse Lingard and Danny Welbeck all got their first-team breaks via England’s loan system.
But what about the players who owe their World Cup places to lower league academies?
Leeds produced Danny Rose and Fabian Delph, Kyle Walker and Harry Maguire graduated through Sheffield United’s set-up while John Stones came through Barnsley’s academy.
Ashley Young will be forced into showing his age when he talks of playing in the old First Division with Watford.
Finally, Dele Alli’s story is perhaps the most encouraging for youngsters plugging away in the lower leagues as he spent four years in League One with MK Dons before taking on Europe’s elite with Spurs.
So tune in to the League Two play-offs on 28 May. You never know, you just might catch the future of English football.
Dream Team World Cup has landed
The greatest show on Earth just got that bit more exciting.
That’s because the Dream Team World Cup game is coming ahead of this summer’s tournament.
Dream Team World Cup
- Completely free to enter
- £50m budget and 20 transfers throughout the tournament
- £175k total prizepot (for UK players only)
- PRE-REGISTER FOR DREAM TEAM WORLD CUP NOW
The game officially launches on June 1 – but you can pre-register for the game now.
If you’re an existing Dream Team customer the World Cup game now appears in the app or you can enter here, but if you’re not follow these simple steps:
- Download the Dream Team app
- Create an account
- Click on the World Cup banner below in the app and follow the pre-registration instructions
From Russia with a whole lot of love.