AS ENGLAND'S World Cup heroes prepare for tonight's semi-final clash, their march to Moscow is one that's been forged in Sheffield steel.
Three players in Gareth Southgate’s squad – quarter-final goal-scoring hero Harry Maguire, defender Kyle Walker and striker Jamie Vardy – were all raised within a ten mile radius in the city.
Those living on Walker's estate in Sharrow will be proudly cheering on their hero against Croatia, while six miles away in Mosborough around 2,000 fans will pack into Maguire's pub to support the local star.
As well as the three Sheffield-born players, four other players in the Three Lions squad hail from Yorkshire.
Danny Rose is from Doncaster and John Stones from Barnsley. Fabian Delph was born in Bradford, West Yorkshire, while veteran defender Gary Cahill was born just south of Sheffield in Dronfield, over the border in Derbyshire.
Dan Jarvis, mayor of the Sheffield city region, said: “There is that resilience, that spirit and that true Yorkshire grit, which gives our kids the drive to maximise their talent and fulfil their sporting dreams.”
"Sheffield is immensely proud of its footballing heritage," said Mary Lea, a local cabinet member for culture, parks and leisure.
"Across the city, pubs and clubs have been packed into the early hours celebrating England's successes. For Sheffield, it really is coming home."
England’s success in the tournament has been built on the solid defensive trio of Barnsley-born John Stones, Maguire and Walker – the latter two were both graduates of the Sheffield United academy.
Ron Reid, the club’s former academy manager, said: “They’ve all done it the hard way and it’s probably nothing more than coincidence but the region should be proud when they see England’s defenders Kyle and Harry and John Stones have all come through at working class clubs in South Yorkshire.”
Walker joined the club’s academy at the age of seven, growing up with Jamaican-born dad Michael, mum Tracey and his two sisters on the nearby Lansdowne Estate in Sharrow – a short walk from United’s Bramall Lane.
In a previous interview he recalled: "We lived in council flats and the ice-cream man used to come up when we’d be playing football on the green and everyone would scatter, whistling for their mums.
“Once I remember shouting, ‘Mum, can I get a pound for an ice cream?’ and she said, ‘I haven’t got a pound, Kyle’. People take so much for granted but I will never forget that.
“I’m going to repay my mum so much because she has kept my feet on the ground.
”I don’t go throwing money about – if I did, I think my mum and dad would be on my back because that’s not the way I’ve been brought up.
“I’ve got two sisters, too. I have to look after my family now because I wouldn’t be the person I am or the footballer I am without them."
He added: "I've come a long way from the area where I grew up in Sheffield. It's been a journey but I've fully enjoyed it."
Today, the 27-year-old is among the world’s most expensive footballers following his £53m transfer from Tottenham Hotspur to Manchester City last summer.
Those still living on the tough Sheffield estate are proud of Walker’s rise to the top.
Billy Hawsham, 63, recalled his son playing alongside the local hero at youth level and the England player hitting golf balls over low-rise tower blocks as a kid.
Mr Hawsham credits the laid-back ethos of the Yorkshire-heavy squad with helping to create "more euphoria this time than in any other tournament.”
He added: “There’s a different feel to it with this younger side and no superstars”.
Howard Holmes, a 71-year-old youth worker turned coach who helped discover Walker, said he was not surprised the region was producing talented players given its football pedigree.
"You're right at the fulcrum of where football started," he said.
FIFA recognises Sheffield FC - formed in 1857 and now playing in the eighth tier of English football - as the oldest club in the world.
In nearby Mosborough, where Walker’s fellow Sheffield United graduate Maguire grew up, his local pub has turned its car park into a fan-zone decked out with two large screens.
David Hoyland, 47, manager of the British Oak Alehouse, said the pub - where Maguire's parents are still regulars - does not usually show football but is making an exception.
He estimates around 2,000 fans packed the place on Saturday to see England defeat Sweden, sinking 3,000 pints and hundreds of cocktails in the process.
Reflecting the swelling local pride, Mr Hoyland added: "Someone came by Sunday and said it was the best day of his life."
Maguire – nicknamed ‘Slabhead’ – has enjoyed a steadier journey to the top than Walker. He watched England’s last campaign, at Euro 2016 from France, in the stands with his pals.
According to his former teacher at St Mary's Catholic High School in Chesterfield the burly 6'4" stopper could have been an accountant.
Sue Cain, deputy head at the school, said: "He was a remarkable pupil who always came in and worked very hard.
"He was never in any trouble and he had such a good attitude. He did everything you asked him to do and he never questioned why. He was a popular lad."
She added: "He got A* and A grades in his GCSEs. I think he would have gone on to study business or maths and probably have been an accountant."
In the end Maguire chose football even though he excelled at cross-country running, rugby and table tennis as a pupil.
His younger sister Daisy, 18, is still a pupil at the school and a keen footballer, while his 21-year-old brother Laurence, just released by Chesterfield, also attended.
Proving that sport is very much in the Maguire family, their eldest son Joe, 26, plays for Buxton FC in the Northern Premier League Premier Division.
After coming through the ranks at Sheffield United, 25-year-old Harry joined Hull and then Leicester City last year. He was picked for his England debut against Lithuania last October.
Commenting on why so many of his team-mates were from Yorkshire, he said: “There are quite a lot of Yorkshire lads in the squad and they all tend to be defenders or defensive midfielders.
“It must be something from the culture for the area.
“I’m sure there are other parts of the country who are more than capable of getting in a physical battle, but I’m sure we’re all up for it, definitely.”
As well as his family, Maguire has been cheered on in Russia by his fiancée Fern Hawkins who he's been dating for more than seven years.
Maguire’s Leicester City teammate Vardy grew up in a three-bedroom semi-detached house on Loxley Road in the Hillsborough area of inner-city Sheffield. His dad Phil is a crane worker, his mum Lisa an employee at a solicitors.
Vardy, whose idol was David Hirst, was raised less than two miles from Hillsborough, home of Sheffield Wednesday.
After his release from Wednesday for being too short, he quit the game for eight months, working in a carbon fibre factory until he was persuaded to play non-league football for £30 a game with Stocksbridge Steels in the Northern Premier League.
While at Stocksbridge he was convicted of assault. Vardy had to play with a tag and adhere to a 6.30pm curfew.
He claimed he was defending a friend outside a nightclub who was being attacked because they were wearing a hearing aid.
From there he joined Halifax Town before transferring to Fleetwood Town where his 34 goals helped propel the club into the Football League for the first time.
After joining Leicester in 2012, he enjoyed phenomenal success with the Foxes, winning the Premier League in 2016 and becoming a regular fixture in the England squad.
He married Rebekah Nicholson in 2016 but his parents and grandparents (as well as her parents) didn't attend the lavish wedding due to their long-standing disapproval of his bride.
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For the first time in the tournament, the local council will show tonight's semi-final on a 43-square-metre screen in the city centre with room for up to 10,000 fans.
The city will be celebrating its local heroes at the fan-zone under the banner "Made in Sheffield”.
Former sports minister Richard Caborn and the leader of Sheffield City Council Julie Dore want the Yorkshire city to host a parade to recognise the region's contribution to the squad.
Fitsroy Turner, 43, a construction worker, said: “It makes us feel proud of Sheffield knowing they come from here.”
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