GARETH SOUTHGATE may have taken England into the World Cup semi-finals for the first time in 28 years – but he still remains as level-headed as when he was representing Sussex as a schoolboy.

That is the opinion of one of his former team-mates Tobi Hutchinson.

Southgate, who grew up in Crawley and went to Hazelwick School in the town, cut his teeth playing junior football around the county and is pictured in this snap of Sussex Schools under-15s at Three Bridges in 1985 before they played Inner London Schools.

Hutchinson, now manager of Eastbourne United in the Southern Combination League, admits Southgate rise has been remarkable – and also a little surprising as he stands on the brink of steering the Three Lions into the World Cup final in Russia tonight.

In fact, Hutchinson reckons Southgate’s unassuming personality has been a trait throughout a successful career as both a player with the likes of Crystal Palace and Aston Villa and now as the national team boss.

Hutchinson told The Argus: “He’s a player you tell your mates you played with, and obviously he was a good player as the following year he went to Crystal Palace, but he wasn’t anything to write home about then.

“I guess that kind of typifies what he has been like throughout his career – a little bit under the radar, quite quiet and unassuming and went about his business.

“I think then, as he is now, that is the type of personality he is.”

Hutchinson, a Uefa B coach with his own development centre, believes Southgate’s style has helped England reach tonight’s last four clash with Croatia.

“He’s probably bucking the trend because we tend to have extreme views. We’re either brilliant or awful, or we’re going to win the World Cup because we won a game or we are rubbish because we lost one,” said Hutchinson.

“Now I feel we have found this middle ground with Gareth and we’re just a little bit more level-headed about everything.

“It’s a bit easier to say now as we’ve been winning but I feel he’s cultivated a spirit which is very much about the unit rather than the individual, about keeping your feet on the ground and just being far more relaxed about things rather than being so emotional and up and down.”

He added: “He’s still like he was. That level-headedness was evident as a 15-year-old, as a pro footballer and he has taken that into management. He typifies the modern coach. He’s articulate, he speaks well about people, with people and gets his point across well. That’s the key thing isn’t it because these players can play anyway.

“If you can articulate a game-plan, a concept and an idea, then they’re able to implement it, which they are clearly showing at the moment.”

Hutchinson, whose sons Isaac and Jake have been with Albion’s youth set-up, has bumped into Southgate since their playing days together.

He said: “Two years ago my son was in the England under-16s training camp and Gareth was there although he wasn’t England manager then. He was a technical adviser and did a speech when we first went up there.

“It’s a bit embarrassing for myself but I went up and spoke to him then and reminded him of the past. To be fair, he remembered it and remembered the names of the lads.

“He was really, really down to earth and genuinely a nice guy and that is how he always was as a kid.

“Some in the dressing room are a bit gobby and full of themselves – and there were one or two who were - but he wasn’t like that at all, he was just very quiet, unassuming and did the job he was asked to do.

“He was very much a team player.”

Hutchinson has good memories of the squad pictured. A number of Brighton Boys players were absent, including Jack Dineen who went on to play for Albion’s first team soon after. The team also included goalkeeper Tim Reid, an FA Cup hero for Woking when they knocked out West Brom in 1991, and Darren Hinton, the son of Chelsea FA Cup winner Marvin.