THREE years ago today, Saints were in third division action at Colchester United.

In front of a few thousand fans at the Weston Homes Community Stadium, Rickie Lambert, Adam Lallana and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain helped Nigel Adkins’ men triumph 2-0.

Back then, none of the trio could have ever dreamed that they would be contenders for a place in the England manager’s next World Cup finals squad.

Lambert had just turned 29, and had played his entire career in the lower divisions.

Oxlade-Chamberlain was only 17, and in his first full season as a regular in professional football.

Lallana was a playmaker for one of the better third division clubs.

As for Luke Shaw, he was no doubt playing for Saints’ under-16s on March 5, 2011.

Now all four could be playing in the same senior England side tonight against Denmark at Wembley tonight.

What an amazing day this truly is for Southampton FC and their much-vaunted academy.

The club have an amazing eighteen of their players on international duty – nineteen, if you include on loan striker Dani Osvaldo.

Never have so many of the club’s players all been selected for the countries on the same day.

In addition, another recent academy graduate – Ben Reeves – could make his senior Northern Ireland debut tonight.

Then there is Chamberlain, and don’t forget Theo Walcott would also have been included in Roy Hodgson’s squad had he not been injured.

It is also ironic that two of Saints’ Premier League regulars – Morgan Schneiderlin and Jose Fonte – are among those left behind at Staplewood this week. Yet again, and despite their impressive league performances, they have failed to be picked by France and Portugal respectively.

Two others, Jack Cork and Nathaniel Clyne, are no strangers to the international stage having been one-time under-21 regulars.

Saints have nine players in the England under-19, under-21 and senior squads tonight.

Manchester United and Chelsea have the same number, but some of their players are currently out on loan.

All nine Saints are very much at St Mary’s, and seven of those nine have come through the club’s academy (only Lambert and Jay Rodriguez have been signed from other clubs).

Three years ago, Saints had no players on senior international duty.

Today they have 12, plus seven at youth level.

If nothing else, that statistic underlines the remarkable progress Saints have made in the last 36 months.

From third division players to World Cup stars in that short period.

It would once have seemed almost an impossible journey.

After tonight, it could appear almost inevitable ....