Three Lions on the shirt… Jules Rimet still gleaming… 51 years of hurt never stopped us dreaming…
England have done it.
On Sunday, the Three Lions made history, triumphing in the Under-20 World Cup to claim the country’s biggest major tournament victory since 1966.
The man at the helm: Mr Paul Simpson – Club journalist Caroline Oatway takes a closer look at the career of a man who made 800 professional appearances spanning a 23-year career, including more than 100 for City….
Simpson made his senior debut for the Blues while still a schoolboy in 1982, aged just 16 years and 68 days. He had celebrated his sixteenth birthday a mere two months before.
Then, having gained first-team experience following a loan spell at Irish side Finn Harps, the youngster returned and became a regular member of Billy McNeill’s starting XI.
A classic winger, admired for his dribbling ability and sweet left foot, ‘Simmo’ quickly became a fans’ favourite.
He helped the Blues secure promotion to the First Division and earned call-ups to England’s Under-21 squad before leaving Maine Road to join Oxford in 1988.
He went on to represent Derby, Sheffield United, Wolves, Walsall and Blackpool before trying his hand at player-management with Rochdale and Carlisle.
Having guided the latter to successive promotions, full managerial roles at Preston, Shrewsbury, Stockport and Northwich followed.
Simpson also enjoyed a stint coaching at an academy in Portugal; then returned to England to assist Steve McClaren at Derby and Newcastle.
After a spell as a national specialist coach with the FA in 2016 – he was appointed as England U20s’ manager ahead of the World Cup in South Korea.
The Young Lions had not won a game in the current format since 1997 and had never reached the final of the tournament but Simpson led his side to glory, thanks to a hard-fought 1-0 win over Venezuela in the final.
England had already clinched shock victories over Argentina, Italy and hosts Korea. Spectators around the globe were starting to take note and a long-dormant excitement buzzed back home.
Massive achievement by England U20 World Cup Champions. Congratulations 🎇— Shaun Goater MBE (@OfficialSGoater) June 11, 2017
In a dramatic finale at the Suwon World Cup Stadium, Dominic Calvert-Lewin opened the scoring at the second attempt to hand Simpson’s side a half-time lead.
The game took a dramatic turn with 16 minutes remaining as Venezuela were awarded a penalty but Freddie Woodman proved the hero, thwarting Adalberto Penaranda’s spot-kick to hand England victory… and the long-awaited trophy.
Simpson had spoken beforehand of ‘changing perceptions’. He certainly accomplished that.
Reflecting on an incredible achievement on a personal and national level, he expressed immense pride, adding that he hopes to witness more success for his country.
“This is part of the development in us trying to create football players who are capable of being successful at senior tournaments and hopefully this will go a long way to helping us achieve that,” he told the FA.
“We first got together on 5 March when I was asked to step in to take the U20s.
“I asked them what they thought they could achieve. They told me they could win the World Cup.”
Simpson shared the vision and set to work straight away on ensuring his side were well-prepared for the challenge.
He continued: “So we said: if we want to do that, we can’t take any days off. We had to be absolutely committed from that moment on and they have been.
“This is the reward for some incredible work; some incredible sacrifices that they’ve had to make.
“We’ve been away from our families for 35 days and this is what we’ve worked so hard for. It’s been a wonderful trip and our experience in South Korea has been so positive.”
The triumph over Venezuela was not a pretty display. It was achieved with grit, determination and desire – something the U20s proved they have in abundance.
“It wasn’t our best performance,” Simpson admitted. “We really had to battle in the second half.
“There was so much pressure and the players defended for their lives. I suppose to win the World Cup, you have to do that.
“We scored a really good goal and had some good opportunities in the first half that we didn’t make any use of.
“In the second half, they were the better team but there is more than one way to win a game of football and sometimes you have to defend. That’s what we did.”
The popular Simpson was inundated with congratulatory messages and best wishes from fans, journalists and former colleagues following the historic win.
He certainly will never forget one of the greatest days for English football.
U20 World Cup winners - @England— Toni Duggan (@toniduggan) June 11, 2017
Congratulations to all the lads & the staff, What an amazing achievement!!!! 👏👏👏🏆
“I don’t think you can get a better feeling than when the referee blew the final whistle to know we were World Champions,” he beamed.
“We’ve waited 51 years to say that as an England team. It’s an incredible feeling and I don’t think it will ever go away.
“After the semi-final, I said there couldn’t be a prouder Englishman anywhere in the world… but I’ve topped that.
“I can’t believe the feeling of pride I’ve got and I know that’s the same for the players.”
Congratulations, Paul and England!