Barnsley academy coach Martin Devaney and community soccerschool organiser Bruce Dyer believe their fellow ex-Red John Stones' success at the World Cup can inspire a new generation of talent from the town.
The 24-year-old from Thurlstone was the only outfield player to start all seven of England's matches in Russia, with the only time he missed any action being in the final group game against Belgium when he came off injured. Stones was part of the first England side to reach the last four of the World Cup since 1990 before they lost to Croatia in last week's semi-final.
Dyer, who played up front for Barnsley from 1998 to 2003, said: "We should all be really, really proud of John. He's been fantastic. As a professional footballer, the ultimate dream ticket is to play in a World Cup. Stonesy has done that, but he's also played really well and got to the semi-final. It's a brilliant achievement."
Dyer runs soccerschools and community projects around Barnsley and has had support from Stones in the past as the pair have kept in touch since first meeting at Oakwell almost a decade ago.
"I have exchanged a few messages with him. We've known each other ever since he was at Barnsley and he has come back a few times to my soccerschools. It's good that he has taken time out and given something back to the community."
Dyer uses Stones' story as inspiration to the children he works with. He said: He's definitely an example we can use. He's someone who kept his head down, worked hard then got an opportunity and took it."
Stones has received criticism in the past from fans and media for failing to 'do the basics' of defending while focusing on bringing the ball of defence. Dyer said: "He's always been fantastic on the ball but he's shown he can defend at this World Cup. I have been enjoying watching the confidence of the English defence on the ball during the World Cup but they have shown they can defend properly as well."
Like Stones, Devaney lives in the Penistone area and is in contact with the England player. The Reds' under 23s coach – who played 176 games for the Reds between 2005 and 2011 – uses Stones as an example to the young players he is developing at Oakwell. Devaney said: "I know Stonesy and I still see him out and about in Penistone quite a lot, including this week after he got back from the World Cup. He's always happy to talk to the local people and he's still the same humble lad he always was.
"We can definitely use his example as an inspiration for all the young players we work with. There is no better example to use. He's so relatable, just an ordinary kid from Barnsley who has worked hard and done incredible things. You can say to the lads coming through now: 'this is what you can go on to do'. Every player should be aspiring to play in the Premier League and for England like Stonesy."
Devaney and Stones' spells as players at Oakwell just overlapped. Devaney said: "He played a couple of reserve games with me when he was about 16 and I was in my last year at Oakwell. I am not one of those people who says 'I could tell straight away he would play for England'. No one actually thought that. He was a fantastic young talent, he lived clean, was mentally strong and a great footballer. But you could never have predicted he would go as far as he has gone. Until he did it, we just didn't have the example in recent years of someone coming from Barnsley and going to the very top of the game."
Stones scored his first two international goals in the 6-1 hammering of Panama in the group stage and was an aerial threat throughout the competition in which England's main route to goal was set pieces. He has netted as many World Cup goals as Alan Shearer and Bryan Robson while he has more than England's record scorer Wayne Rooney.Stones almost added to his tally in the semi-final but he had a header cleared off the line in extra-time against Croatia then was beaten by Mario Mandzukic who scored what proved to be the winning goal.
The former Penistone Grammar School pupil spent a decade in the Oakwell academy before making his debut as a 17-year-old in 2012. He made 28 appearances, scoring once, before being sold to Everton in January 2013. He then moved to on Manchester City for £47.5million – earning Barnsley £7million in sell-on clause money – in 2016 and won the Premier League with them earlier this year. He now has 33 England caps.