Local heroes Marcus Rashford and Phil Foden make North West burst with pride

Janice and Mike McGreevy with the mural of local boy Phil Foden in Stockport - Paul Cooper
Janice and Mike McGreevy with the mural of local boy Phil Foden in Stockport - Paul Cooper

For an England footballer, a trip back home must sometimes be a strange experience. One minute you’re a young boy with an extraordinary talent for football, the next you find your portrait has been painted on the side of a building just a stone’s throw from where you grew up – a reminder to the little boys and girls living in those same streets that success could be within their grasp too.

It’s par for the course for Phil Foden and Marcus Rashford, both of whom have the not inconsiderable honour of having their faces plastered across walls in Stockport and nearby Withington, where they grew up.

This corner of the North West has bred two of the most exciting players in Gareth Southgate’s team; pride for these local heroes runs deep.

For Mike McGreevy, 68, who went to the secondary school Foden attended, it’s his raw talent that makes Stockport proud. “He’s going to be the best in the world. He might not quite be there yet but he’s going to be, because he’s still such a young fella. He’s fabulous.”

For his wife, Janice, 60, it’s Foden’s decency and connection to his home town that means so much. “He does a lot for the community as well; he doesn’t forget where he’s come from. When you come from a place like that you respect everybody. You don’t forget your roots.”

Phil Foden and Marcus Rashford - Eddie Keogh - The FA
Phil Foden and Marcus Rashford - Eddie Keogh - The FA

At Bridge Hall Primary School, deputy head Debbie Henderson remembers the little boy who even at 10 years old knew he needed to wear his talent with humility. “The other children were occasionally in awe, but he coped with it well.

“He wasn’t big headed, he knew what he wanted and where he wanted to go.”

Now, he’s “a hero” to them – the star on their TV screens who sat in the same classrooms and bought their football team a new kit a couple of years ago.

Joe Makin, coach of local youth team Reddish Vulcans, still recalls the first time he saw a young Foden play. “He came to us on a school programme. The ball just went across the pitch and he took it and did a Cruyff turn and just ran in the opposite direction. And I just thought, wow, this boy is only just seven.”

Makin (who now works at Manchester City and still sees Foden regularly) recalls how even then the youngster had “a dedication to everything he did”.

On the street where Foden grew up, and where some of his family still live, his aunt Chelsea and her family pull up. She is understandably reticent when it comes to talking about her star nephew, but asked if she is proud of his achievements, she beams. “Yeah.” Her little boy, meanwhile, is sporting a signature Phil Foden haircut.

Barbara Aston has her picture taken at the mural for Marcus Rashford - Paul Cooper
Barbara Aston has her picture taken at the mural for Marcus Rashford - Paul Cooper

Her neighbours are terribly proud of their homegrown star.

“It’s something for the kids to look up to,” says Des Williams, 43. “[It says to them] don’t give up on your goals. You can achieve whatever.”

“[Phil] is lovely, absolutely lovely,” says Sharon Glennister, 60, who lives opposite Foden’s grandma.

“He’s just a nice lad, so genuine. He’s been over a few times because my husband’s a big Tottenham fan, so they have a bit of banter together. He’s just made it, hasn’t he.”

If he scores on Sunday? “Everyone here will be very happy.”

These days, Foden, a father-of-two, lives in upmarket Prestbury in Cheshire. Five minutes from the terraced house opposite a takeaway where he grew up, lifelong Manchester City supporter Les Senger-Jones is cycling past his mural.

Is he a fan of the 22-year-old? “I’m a City fan and I’m a Stockportonian, so, obviously,” he says, incredulous.

“I mean it’s a local lad done good. You’re going to get a bit of pride in that; not too many come through, that’s the poignant thing.”

Man City and England fan Les Senger-Jones cycles past the mural of Phil Foden in Stockport - Paul Cooper
Man City and England fan Les Senger-Jones cycles past the mural of Phil Foden in Stockport - Paul Cooper

It’s the kind of muted but heartfelt pride you encounter a lot here. “I think he’s very good,” says Senger-Jones, matter-of-factly. “He seems to come from a good family.”

He doesn’t think much of the way Southgate uses him, though. “I hope he plays him in the right position [on Sunday]. I’d like him to play number 10, a kind of leftish midfield as opposed to an out-and-out winger.”

In Withington there is a similar brand of quiet pride for Marcus Rashford. “Yeah he’s not bad is he?” says one Manchester United supporter, looking up approvingly at a great black-and-white mural emblazoned with the words: “Take pride in knowing that your struggle will play the biggest role in your purpose.”

“He’s had way too much stick for his football,” says Ed Gasson, 29. “Getting told to concentrate and everything else. He’s using his platform for good.”

He was relieved to see Rashford back on form this week. “I was so happy for him.”

Most of the time, of course, Rashford and Foden are rivals, as are their fans but, at the moment, pride for both players is shared across Manchester and Stockport.

“We had two United players in the World Cup and a City, didn’t we?” says Barbara Aston, 80, a lifelong Manchester United supporter. “They brought all three!”

She is loyal to Rashford, though, who apart from playing “brilliantly” on Tuesday night against Wales has “done a lot of good”.

Joe Makin recalls how after that first training session with a seven-year-old Foden, a parent approached him, amazed by what they’d just seen. “They said: ‘where’s that little boy come from?’”

His reply? “I just looked up, put my hands together and said ‘heaven’.”

The real answer, of course, is the North West, where future England goal scorers are born.