Dublin: 10°C Wednesday 18 May 2022

England's victorious U20 World Cup boss once had a spell in the League of Ireland

Paul Simpson was at the helm as England ended a 51-year wait for success in a Fifa-recognised tournament.

South Korea FIFA U20 World Cup Soccer Paul Simpson (front row, second from left) celebrates with England's U20 side after their World Cup success. Source: Lee Jin-man

WHETHER IT’S A lad wearing a Kerry jersey at the Masters or a Rugby World Cup winner playing Gaelic football in Meath, we’re seldom hesitant to look for an Irish connection in any major sports story.

In the case of England’s triumph at the U20 World Cup over the weekend, the opening has been provided by manager Paul Simpson.

As highlighted by Stephen Finn on the SSE Airtricity League’s official website in the build-up to England’s 1-0 victory over Venezuela in South Korea yesterday, Simpson had a brief spell with Finn Harps during the early stages of his playing career.

Simpson took over as England U20 manager earlier this year after Gareth Southgate was promoted to senior boss from his U21 role and Aidy Boothroyd left the U20 gig behind in order to move up and fill the vacancy.

The 50-year-old’s managerial career began with Rochdale in 2002. He served as assistant to Steve McClaren at Newcastle United in 2015 and was previously close to steering Preston North End to the Premier League. The Deepdale outfit were top of the Championship in December 2006 but ultimately missed out on a play-off spot via goal difference.

However, the success of England’s U20 team yesterday in Suwon — which represents the country’s first Fifa-recognised trophy since their World Cup win on home soil in 1966 — will undoubtedly go down as Simpson’s most significant achievement to date.

Paul Simpson Paul Simpson in 1984. Source: PA Archive/PA Images

“This is the reward for some incredible work, some incredible sacrifices, and I do not think you can get a better feeling than what that felt like at the end of the game when the referee blew that whistle,” said Simpson.

“We are world champions and we have waited 51 years to be able to say that again as an England team. It is an incredible feeling and I do not think it will ever go away if I am honest with you.”

Simpson’s playing career began in 1982 when he made his senior debut for Manchester City as a 16-year-old winger. But when City were relegated to the second tier of English football in 1984, manager Billy McNeill sent Simpson and fellow 18-year-old John Beresford on loan to Finn Harps in search of more experience of first-team football.

Simpson spent two months in Ballybofey and made 13 appearances for Harps, who were reluctant to allow him to to back to Maine Road. When he did return to City, Simpson scored six times in 10 games to help his side to seal promotion back to the old First Division.

“I have to admit, Billy [McNeill] had to sell it to us,” Simpson told club historian Bartley Ramsay when reflecting on his move to Ballybofey in an interview for the Finn Harps programme in 2004.

“He explained that he had a big squad at City, it would toughen us up to get some games in a competitive environment. After that I was happy enough to go and stay for three months. It was a culture shock as you can imagine. Ballybofey was a small town and here we were coming from Manchester — a big city.

“Funny, the thing that has stayed with me most is when we turned up for the first game. It was a pre-season game against Glasgow Celtic and we arrived at the hotel to find the rest of the players tucking into a normal Sunday dinner a couple of hours before a match. That was quite strange but I must say they were a great bunch of lads.”

Simpson made over 150 first-team appearances for Manchester City before moving to Oxford United in 1988. He also went on to have lengthy spells with the likes of Derby County, Wolves and Blackpool, as well as being capped by England at U21 level.

“I hope it has a positive impact on English football,” Simpson said after yesterday’s victory. “I do not really know what is going to come but it is part of the development that we are trying to create football players who are capable of being successful at senior tournaments and hopefully this will go a long way to achieving that.

“I honestly don’t know what it means for English football. But for the U20s it means everything. This is what we have worked so hard for.”

Everton striker fires England to first World Cup success at any level since 1966

Liverpool new boy follows in footsteps of Maradona and Messi with Golden Ball

About the author:

Paul Dollery

Read next: