CROWDS of inspired young children filled their school playground with parents and teachers, screaming with excitement that one day they could achieve as much as their hero – Gareth Southgate.
Because the Padnell Infant School youngsters have one thing in common with the manager of England’s World Cup Team – they attended the same school – and they’re very proud of it.
After hearing rumours the former footballer went to Padnell, staff scoured its archives and found he was in fact on the admissions register from 1976 – having started on January 7 that year.
Mandy Grayson, Padnell Infant School’s headteacher, said: ‘We became aware of the link after seeing a post on a Facebook group, so staff started searching the internet and archives to find out if Gareth went to Padnell.
'The admissions register from 1976 confirms his attendance at our school and when we told the children, excited screams filled the classroom – they’re happy about this.
'Sport brings the nation together and through his leadership Gareth has grown a team the nation can be proud of, and we’re proud to have his name attached to our school.
'Knowing he went to Padnell has given the children the belief they can achieve anything, providing they follow our school values.’
Staff are unsure how long Gareth stayed at Padnell as records do not show, but he would not have been there for more than three years.
Seven-year-old Preston Prendiville, in Year 2, said: ‘I feel special and excited knowing I’m at the same school Gareth went to, it makes me feel like I could achieve something.
Preston plays for the under-8s team at Denmead FC and added: ‘When I was little I always loved football, I think Gareth is a great manager. My favourite England player is Marcus Rashford.’
Phoebe Bushnell, six and who is in Year 1, is a football fanatic. She plays for the Horndean Hawks and said: ‘I cant believe Gareth went to my school. It makes me want to be a better footballer knowing England could win the World Cup.
Phoebe’s mum Charlie Bushnell, 39, said the news has brought the World Cup to home for the children.
She added: ‘This is something the kids can really look up to, especially if they like sport, it shows them they can achieve big themselves and will keep them active. I can’t believe it myself!’
Editor of The News Mark Waldron grew up in Cowplain and is another former Padnell pupil. He said: 'I have such fond memories of my days at Padnell – including playing for the school football team.
‘I'm four years older than Gareth so I would have been in the junior school when he joined the infants, but our paths may well have crossed at the school gate!
'I never did fulfil my childhood dream of playing in goal for England, while Gareth now stands on the verge of bringing home World Cup glory as manager of the national team.'
A passionate England fan has been left in disbelief after finding out she was in the same year group as Gareth Southgate at Padnell Infant School – on the same day she bought a mask of his face.
Becky Jackson, 47 and who is now a teaching assistant at the school, has been following the World Cup with her family who have parties for every England game.
The mum-of-three also went to the infant school herself and said: 'I'm a passionate England fan, our whole family are, and I remember Gareth from the days he used to play with the Neville brothers and David Beckham.
'I can't believe I was at the same school, in the same year group as him. Records show I started on January 7, 1976 and he started on January 19.
'To be able to say I was there on his first day of school is amazing.
'He could have been my future husband!’ Becky joked.
She said her parties of 50 people will now grow given the news, and she has invited even more along for tonight’s England game against Croatia.