Fabian Delph will miss England’s World Cup opener tomorrow if his wife goes into labour.
The devoted dad of two admitted yesterday he would put his family before his country as we face Tunisia – with the full backing of manager Gareth Southgate and his team-mates.
Delph, 27, has a “plan in place” to immediately leave Russia should a text drop from heavily pregnant wife Natalie, 28, who is due to give birth to their third child in the next few days.
And the Manchester City midfielder said Southgate, 47, also had to dash home from international duty when his wife Alison was in labour – and made it by just 10 minutes.
As England prepared to fly into the intense heat of Volgograd today, Delph said: “I have had a fantastic year on a personal level with my wife expecting my third child, it has been absolutely amazing.
“I am waiting for a text from her to say come back home but so far she’s been fine. Gareth understands how important family is because we speak about it a lot. He was with England, and got back for the birth of one of his children, and made it by 10 minutes so hopefully I can do the same.
“I have spoken to the FA and asked them to get a private jet with lots of champagne. We have looked at this and put a plan in place to get me back as fast as possible.
“I would have to get back to England and get back again, but that is part of life.” He made clear that even if he is picked for the starting 11, he will miss the game to go home.
“If I am selected to play but I have to go back to see my family, then I know there are players who are more than capable of stepping into to do my job,” added Delph, who has daughters, Sofia, five, and Aleya, three.
An army of 3,000 England fans is expected in Volgograd for the big match and the first arrived yesterday.
Many were silver-haired and in their 50s and 60s – a Dad’s Army of fans alongside Vlad’s Army, with more than a third of the total 2.4 million tickets sold going to Russians.
Sean and Karen Scully, of Wick, Bristol, took a full day to get there.
They left home at 10am on Friday and arrived at their apartment almost exactly 24 hours to the minute.
Sean, 52, said: “I don’t think there will be so many young fans here at this tournament. It be an older crowd on average.” Chris Clarke, from Rugeley, Staffs, said he received a warm welcome after flying in via Moscow.
The 48-year-old said: “I was a bit worried about what it was going to be like, but soon realised it’s an amazing place. It’s so clean, so friendly and everyone is really polite. Everyone’s coming up to me asking me where I’m from. I’ve seen about 10 England fans, there’s more Russians in England shirts. Yesterday I wasn’t wearing my England shirt and no one came to me – today everyone is coming to me and welcoming me to Russia.”
Chris was in Marseille during the 2016 European Championships and was concerned there may be a repeat of the violence which marred the tournament.
Asked if he was nervous to wear his replica shirt, he replied: “Yesterday yes, today not at all – straight on this morning. I was in Marseille and it wasn’t good at all.
“But I’ve spoken to Russians in the last two years and they’ve said that’s not what Russia is like. I believe them.” Martin Barnes and Dave Inniss, from Launceston, Cornwall, had a mammoth journey, taking around 30 hours and involving three flights.
Dave said of the city: “It’s absolutely brilliant – really nice people.”
Martin admitted he was a “little bit” concerned of reports of potential violence. But he said: “We travelled over not wearing our colours, but everyone else is so we thought why not? We just want to represent our country. The excitement is a lot greater than the anticipation.”
They hope England will reach the quarter-finals, and Martin added: “I promise myself every year I won’t get swept up in it, but every year I get swept up.”
Some fans are arriving in a more unusual fashion.
Mitchell Jones and Jamie Marriott are cycling from Emsworth, Hants, raising money for Cancer Research UK.
And entrepreneur Graham Kentsley sailed to the match.
England have a final training session at their base in Repino, near Saint Petersburg before the 1,000 mile, two-and-half-hour flight south to Volgograd today.
They will have another workout in the 45,568-seater Volgograd Arena, where Southgate, left, faces the press this evening.
Captain Harry Kane and his young guns face energy-sapping 29°C heat – conditions that favour Africa’s best team. Tunisia are ranked 21st in the world rankings, nine below England.
But excitement in the Three Lions camp is mounting as they approach the first game.
Delph said they know they could return from the tournament “as heroes” – like the 1990 squad who reached the semi-finals in Italy.
“We are just ready to go now and cannot wait to get started,” added Bradford-born Delph. “There is no tension, we are very relaxed. We have very fast players, exciting, with athleticism, the young players are fearless.”
Referring to the facilities in Repino, he added: “I have got all the home comforts, I brought my own Yorkshire Tea bags. It’s just like being in Yorkshire, to be honest.”
On Kane, he joked: “’H’ has always been captain whether he had the armband or not. He still never passes and shoots at every opportunity. He is a great player, a great goalscorer.”
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