North v South: Where do Britain's best sports stars hail from?
England's World Cup squad was dominated by northerners, but what about golf, rugby, boxing, snooker, darts and cricket? We did the research to find out.
England’s run to the semi-finals of the World Cup this summer captivated the entire country.
But there was more than just national pride at stake as Three Lions equalled their best showing at a major tournament since 1966.
With a large contingent of Gareth Southgate’s 23-man squad hailing from the north, local bragging rights were also on the agenda.
That prompted the question: which areas of the United Kingdom can lay claim to its most popular sports?
So, we researched where the top footballers, golfers, rugby players, darts players, boxers, snooker players and cricketers grew up to find the definitive home of each.
Using the 23-man World Cup squad as a basis, we already know that the north is the main breeding ground for England’s footballers.
Of the players who went to Russia, 15 can consider themselves northerners.
With Kyle Walker, Danny Rose, John Stones, Harry Maguire, Fabian Delph and Jamie Vardy all coming from Yorkshire, the white rose county has the equal-highest concentration of players.
All bar Delph are from South Yorkshire, while Walker, Maguire and Vardy all grew up in Sheffield.
Add in Gary Cahill – from Dronfield, five miles away – and there is a distinct steely flavour to the Three Lions, who are in the football betting to win Euro 2020.
The north west also supplied Gareth Southgate with six of his squad: Jesse Lingard, Kieran Trippier, Danny Welbeck, Phil Jones, Marcus Rashford and Trent Alexander-Arnold.
Interestingly, there was no a single representative from the midlands in England’s World Cup squad for the first time since 1966. Sorry, me ducks.
Taking the top 15 British and Northern Irish golfers according to the Official World Golf Ranking as 30 September 2018, we can see it is a sport with a southern majority.
Of the 10 southerners in the top 15, six are from the south east: Justin Rose, Tyrell Hatton, Ian Poulter, Ross Fisher, Matt Wallace and Tom Lewis – with the latter five coming from London and the home counties.
While northern representation is limited, there are two golfers who grew up near to one another.
Matthew Fitzpatrick is from Sheffield and Lee Westwood is from Worksop – just 17 miles away.
The sole Northern Irishman on the list is, of course, Rory McIlroy.
There’s no doubt about the home of rugby union.
Of the 18 players to have earned 10 caps or more in the most recent England squad (as of 2 October) 13 are from the south.
Eight of those players – Jamie George, Joe Marler, Kyle Sinckler, Harry Williams, Maro Itoje, Chris Robshaw, Danny Cipriani and Elliot Daly – have their roots in London and the home counties.
There is little representation from Yorkshire and the north west, which is traditionally rugby league country.
George Ford and Owen Farrell – both from Greater Manchester – were the only two northern members of the squad.
Players included here are Britain and Northern Ireland’s top 10 performers in the PDC Order of Merit as of 29 September.
It is the only sport that has representation from the north, midlands, south, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
But despite its nomadic nature, there are trends to pick out.
Peter Wright and Gary Anderson are the two Scots in the top 10, placed second and fourth respectively, and come from neighbouring counties.
Wright is a native of Livingston in West Lothian, while Anderson grew up in Musselburgh in East Lothian – just 25 miles away.
But the title of the home of darts should go to St Helens.
The Merseyside town has a population of just 102,629 and has produced another two of the players from the top 10.
Both Dave Chisnall and Michael Smith, eighth and ninth respectively, are from there.
The midlands boasts four boxers currently holding British or world titles – more than any other area in the country.
Those title holders are: WBA super-flyweight champion Khalid Yafai, British super-featherweight champion Sam Bowen, British middleweight champion Jason Welborn and British light-heavyweight champion Callum Johnson.
Both the south east and north west are close behind, with three boxers each that currently hold either British or world titles.
Unified heavyweight world champion Anthony Joshua and WBO middleweight champion Billy Joe Saunders are from Watford and Welwyn Garden City respectively, both in Hertfordshire.
The absence of Dillian Whyte and George Groves, who recently lost his WBA super-middleweight title to Liverpool’s Callum Smith, deprives the south east of an overall majority, but fellow Londoner Bradley Skeete, who is British welterweight champion, makes up the southern contingent.
Along with the aforementioned Smith, British featherweight champion Ryan Walsh and British heavyweight champion Hughie Fury are the representatives from the north west. At least while the Fury’s cousin continues his comeback.
None of the top 10 British players in the World Snooker Rankings grew up in the north, making it the only sport where the area isn’t represented.
Both the midlands and the south east have produced three players each.
Mark Selby and Betway UK champion Ronnie O’Sullivan, from Leicester and Stourbridge respectively, make up two of the top three in the World Snooker Rankings.
Kettering’s Kyren Wilson, meanwhile, is ranked above two of the three players from the south east.
Barry Hawkins, from Kent, is just one place above Wilson, while Shaun Murphy and Stuart Bingham, both from Essex, are the other two players from the south east.
World champion Mark Williams and Masters champion Mark Allen are the only representatives from Wales and Northern Ireland respectively.
England’s Test squad to face India in August and September was made up of players spread evenly across the country, with the highest concentration again coming from the south east.
Dawid Malan, Ollie Pope and Jamie Porter are all from London, and James Vince hails from West Sussex.
There was strong northern representation as well.
Captain Joe Root, from Sheffield, was joined by fellow Yorkshiremen Jonny Bairstow and Adil Rashid, while James Anderson was the sole north westerner.
The midlands also supplied three of the England squad: Moeen Ali, Stuart Broad and Sam Curran.
The majority of our sports stars come from the south, with 46 of the 107 we researched hailing from there.
Unsurprisingly, there is a weight towards London and the surrounding areas in each sport.
The north is next, having produced 33 athletes - with 15 of those having played in England's 2018 World Cup squad.
The midlands comes in with 15 sports stars, while Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland produced 13 cumulatively.