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Washington's new leading man … is World Cup hero

While Trump embarks upon his maiden visit to London since winning the 2016 election, most English eyes have been admiring another Washington figure — Jordan Pickford, the England goalkeeper.

Forget that England crashed out of the World Cup at the semifinal stage on Wednesday, the performance of the national team has reinvigorated a country which has been in desperate need of a feelgood story.

And nowhere is that feeling of pride felt more keenly than in Washington, the home of Pickford in the northeast of England.

Sitting inside AFC Washington’s club house, Mark Gibbon, chairman of the football club, is telling tales of the boy he’s watched grow up from a small boy to a national hero.

“When I saw Jordan leave in the car for the World Cup to meet up with the England squad I said to my wife: ‘He’s either going to come back a hero or a villain,'” Gibbon told CNN Sport.

“What he’s done is fantastic. Before the World Cup he would walk around just like a local lad but now he might not be able to!”

‘Just a local lad’

Pickford, 24, came to prominence during his time with local club Sunderland before joining Everton in July 2017, in a deal which made him the most expensive British goalkeeper in history.

But even becoming a £30 million footballer and all the attention that goes with it has failed to change Pickford, Gibbon says.

The Under-7's team practice at football training at AFC Washington in the northeast of England.The Under-7's team practice at football training at AFC Washington in the northeast of England.

“He comes back here and drinks in the local pub and he’ll play cricket in the yard with the kids. That’s just who he is.

“Whenever he’s here he goes back to his school, St Robert’s, because he wants to give something back to the community.

“He’s been down here to our club a few times to watch the kids play. He’ll walk around with his dog and wife while watching the kids play. He stops and chats, he feels comfortable here.

“He might be a world superstar now but when he’s here, he’s just Jordan, a lad from Washington.”

Pickford had a consistently impressive World Cup.Pickford had a consistently impressive World Cup.

‘Players are untouchable’

Washington, a small town nestled in between the football hotbeds of Newcastle and Sunderland, has lived each and every moment of England’s World Cup exploits.

Though the adventure eventually ended with a defeat by Croatia in the semifinal, the impact of the team’s success and Pickford’s heroics in particular, has left its mark.

On the playing fields of Washington, local school kids throw themselves around as they reenact Pickford’s saves which helped England into the last four.

Football is hugely popular in the northeast of England.Football is hugely popular in the northeast of England.

AFC Washington has one of the most successful youth programs in the area with their girls teams winning trophy after trophy.

Their success has not gone unnoticed, with one particularly famous local often dropping by to check on their progress.

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“Jordan has been to watch our girls teams, stopped and had photos with them and kicked the ball around with them,” Gibbon said

“So often you hear that top players are untouchable, you don’t get close to them on the streets,” Gibbon says.

“So when that superstar who is England’s No.1 goalkeeper is walking around and is stood next to you and watching your game, it’s huge.”

Visit CNN.com/sport for more news and features

Gibbon now hopes Pickford’s success along with his team’s rising profile in the junior game could lead to a link up with Major League Soccer club DC United in the ‘other’ Washington.

“That would be great, wouldn’t it?” he says with a smile.

Pickford’s World Cup adventure might have come to an end but it might not be the last time you hear about the “real” Washington any time soon.

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