“It is a working class sport and this is a working class area. And we produce the dreams for kids. That's what football does for kids.”
John Gibson has been covering football in the North East for over 50 years and wrote the book Soccer's Golden Nursery, exploring how the region has produced some of England's finest footballers.
Speaking to host David Dubas-Fisher in the latest episode of The North in Numbers, he talks about why the region has one of the best records for producing the country’s national team players.
He added: "We are the Santa Claus of football up here. We give the rest of football everything worth having."
The North in Numbers podcast tells the human stories behind the various statistics for the north of England.
This episode of the podcast looks at the North’s record at producing great England players.
When it comes to producing players for the England national team, the North has always punched above its weight.
A total of 1,259 players have played for the men’s senior team since the first international match back in 1872.
The North West of the country has produced more of those stars than any other region, with 282 to date.
However, it’s the North East which comes out on top when you take population into account.
The 145 England players born in the region works out as an average of one for every 18,413 people currently living there.
That compares to one for every 26,033 people in the North West and one for every 36,405 people in the West Midlands.
So what makes the North East such a golden cradle for footballing talent?
John Gibson has covered football in the region for over 50 years, so if anyone knows, it’s him.
“Football originated as a working men's sport, this is a working class area.
“They used to say in the old days when coal was king that if you whistle down a pit shaft, up would pop a centre forward.
“The one way out for the working man was to excel at sport. The passion that that created has remained ever since.”
The North’s other great hotbed for England players is Merseyside.
A total of 73 England internationals were born in the region, including 41 from Liverpool.
No other city outside of London has produced more Three Lions players than the city of the Beatles.
"Football is almost a religion in these parts,” David Prentice, author of A Grand Old Team to Report, told the pod.
“It's not simply entertainment, something you can dip in and out of. It envelops every waking minute of most people's lives.”
The idea of football being a religion is a sentiment shared by Marine AFC’s David Raven: “Football is bigger here. It’s a religion. The likes of the Rooneys and Gerrards are like Gods.”
“Liverpool produces role models."
Raven captained England at youth level, playing alongside the likes of Wayne Rooney and spoke about what it meant to represent his country.
“It was one of my highlights, even now. I felt so proud .”
“The European Championships in Denmark, we had the likes of Wayne Rooney in the team and I was captaining it. I was so proud of that.”
The conveyor belt of English talent has been in overdrive recently, but it takes a lot of work and maintenance to keep it going.
One of the people charged with that task is former Leeds and Bradford City defender David Wetherall, who is now Head of Youth development at the EFL.
“We’ve got a system that is starting to demonstrate some real positive outcomes in terms of the quality of players coming through.
“The reputation of English young players now is very, very high.
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“There are examples all over the place of young players coming through EFL academies and then making the move on, or in the case of Kalvin Phillips case getting promoted with their club, to play in the Premier League and go on to be involved with national squads.”
Ian Foster is the head coach of England under-19s and was involved in England’s under-17 World Cup winning side.
“They were able to get the experiences that in England pathway we hope to give these young players, so that when they go play in the seniors they’ve been to European Championships, they’ve been to tournaments, they’ve been to World Cup.
“We want to develop players to play for the senior team, but in order for them to have the best experiences they must go deep into tournaments.
“There’s no badge by us in terms of where you watch a player. Whether it’s a player who’s come through the academy at a League Two or One club, or whether he’s come through a category one academy at Premier League level, we’ve got to see where the talent is, and that can take us here there and everywhere."