LOMAS ON STAGS: England’s youth can inspire Mansfield’s production line

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The new domestic football season is now just over three weeks away – but, against all the odds, all thoughts still remain on the World Cup if you are an England supporter.

Who would have thought we would have gone into the last week of the competition with more than just a passing interest in the last four countries standing?

The pub conversation now would usually be about the five signings Stags have made, what the club still needs and how they are likely to fare.

In normal times Neil Bishop, Matt Preston, Tyler Walker, Otis Khan and Craig Davies would be the names on everyone’s tongues in Mansfield.

Instead we are concentrating on the likes of Harry Kane, Harry Maguire, Dele Alli, Jordan Pickford and Keiran Trippier – some of whom were unknowns to the general public before the tournament and have become instant household names.

It has been an incredible ride and tonight’s semi-final will end in tears – either of joy or despair.

But, whatever the result, these boys will come home as heroes as will their manager, who has conducted himself impeccably as well as boosting the nation’s waistcoat production lines.

If they lose to Croatia in tonight’s semi-final, doubtless there will be the usual bitter vipers on social media slagging off their efforts and somehow still believing England has any right to dominate the game we invented.

But, should that happen, hopefully they will be shouted down by the sensible majority who know we have just witnessed something very special.

Some of the England failed ‘old guard’ were doubtless disappointed to be discarded by Gareth Southgate pre-tournament.

It was a bold move to show them the door and bring in untried, untested youngsters and pitch them together onto the world’s biggest stage.

It was always true the kids had talent, had achieved at younger levels for their country, had no fear of failing as no one expected anything and had not been tarnished by past failures and the acidic bile the national media then drip onto you.

But it was also true they could have been rabbits in headlights, pitched too far too soon and capitulated so badly that everyone would have questioned Southgate’s judgement skills.

Thankfully and gloriously it has paid off and at a time when Brexit and a rapidly collapsing government has the country in absolute turmoil and potential disaster it has been a perfectly-timed tonic to the nation.

To see the thousands of people in Nottingham city centre over the last three weeks enjoying not just England but all of an incredible tournament has brought memories that will live on forever.

Wives and girlfriends with little or no interest in football are now singing Three Lions and joining in, which has to be good for the prospects of Stags fans persuading them to go to Morecambe away on a chilly Tuesday night!

Yes there have been idiots trying to spoil it for the rest. But they are simply that – idiots – who have the mentality to do that any weekend of the year after two pints of shandy.

But the vast majority have behaved superbly and basked in the amazing sunshine, fantastic results and feeling of national pride that the summer of 2018 has brought us – and it’s not over yet.

Croatia will provide our stiffest test so far tonight, but not one we should be afraid of.

We know who their danger men are and how they will play. There are no unknowns, no surprises.

Real Madrid’s Luka Modric and Barcelona’s Ivan Rakitic are two of the world’s finest midfield players and represent the biggest danger to England’s dream.

Indeed, Croatia have vast experience throughout the side, having won nine Champions Leagues between them, compared to England’s one, and most of their team have been together for a decade.

But that also means their average age is far older than Southgate’s fledgling stars and, having been through the wringer of extra-time and penalties against the host nation on Saturday night, when England players had their feet up after a simple 90-minute job well done, that could tell on the Croats.

England have gained in confidence with every game and tonight could make their youth and fitness tell as well.

It was once famously said ‘you will never win anything with kids’!

That was proved wrong by Manchester United that season and now let’s hope it’s proved wrong again on Sunday with an England victory against a fantastic French side.

Let’s hope it’s then proved wrong again over the next 10 months as Stags boss David Flitcroft tries to revive the Mansfield Town production line as well and give the club’s youth a long-awaited chance.

Maybe he will even buy a waistcoat?