The new England number 1 has spent much of his career on loan in the lower leagues
Ten of the starting XI in the knockout rounds have experienced life outside the top flight and Raheem Sterling, the one exception, came up through the QPR academy.
Captain Harry Kane and Jesse Lingard were loaned out to four different non-Premier League clubs during their formative years but the poster boy for England’s everyman generation is goalkeeper Jordan Pickford.
He may be the most expensive English goalkeeper in history having cost Everton £25m when he left Sunderland but he is also overtly familiar with the low rent end of the domestic game.
Darlington, Bradford, Carlisle, Burton, Preston…Pickford has been there and worn the gloves for them but the club Southgate loves to namecheck is Alfreton Town.
So how was it that the man destined to have England’s World Cup fate in his hands at Russia 2018 found himself in Derbyshire mining territory?
Pickford has only spent one season at Everton after signing for £25m last summer
It was obvious he was going to go on and on and on – not just because of his ability but his attitude.
Russ O’Neill, who left Alfreton last year after a decade as assistant manager to Nicky Law, takes up the tale.
“I’d seen him playing on loan at Darlington – he was only about 17 – and from that point I’d always kept him in mind,” said O’Neill.
“A year later we were in the Conference Premier Division for the first time trying to find our feet as a part-time club in more or less a full-time league. We got to the crucial point of the season and we were mid to lower half of the table and we picked up an injury to our goalkeeper. Nicky said: ‘We need a keeper, who do you think?’ and I said ‘I’d take that young lad from Darlington.’ He said: ‘Are you sure?’
“It was a big decision to get an inexperienced keeper at that time but I’d seen Jordan and knew how good he was. As far as I’m concerned if they’re good enough, they’re old enough.
“Sunderland agreed and he came down for games and one training session a week. We paid him his petrol money.
“He was a fantastic lad. He was desperate to learn. He used to knock on the office door after each game and ask whether everything had been alright and what he could do to improve for the next game.
“It was obvious he was going to go on and on and on – not just because of his ability but his attitude.
“I said to Paul Clayton, who’s my assistant now at Guiseley, ‘He’ll go on to play for England.’”
England captain, Harry Kane, celebrates one of only two goals during his time with Leicester City
Pickford was naturally combative, shy off the pitch but unafraid to issue dressing downs to his defence on it but frontline exposure at level five of the English game was the equivalent of soaking a conker in vinegar.
“It was a big, physical league and I think he has admitted that in one game at Lincoln he got outmuscled a little bit but it really does develop a player and do them a world of good,” said O’Neill.
“These levels of football are really competitive. You are playing against people trying to pay their mortgages on win bonuses. They are desperate to win and so the lads who come into that learn how to win. They learn in a month what they might in a year being pampered playing under-23s football.
“Jordan just grew and grew. He played a massive part in us establishing ourselves in that division that season and then Sunderland called him back when the job was done and we were safe.”
Pickford had gone through his first season in senior football at Darlington without winning a single league game but Alfreton was the making of him. He kept five clean sheets in 12 appearances.
Another one for England tonight and they will have one foot in the World Cup final.