“Dear England, It has been an extremely difficult year. Everyone in this country has been directly affected by isolation and loss. But we have also seen countless examples of heroism and sacrifice.” No, not the words of our Prime Minister, nor of a Head of State. It was Gareth Southgate, the England football manager who inspired the nation in this passionate letter to the nation, Dear England.
In the letter, Southgate described why England are ‘taking the knee’ in the ongoing Euro 2020 tournament. He wasn’t preaching, talking down or telling anyone what to do, it was a rallying cry to put politics aside, come together after a turbulent time and support our national team in our national game.
It is not the role of a football manager to write letters like this, but it undoubtedly shows qualities of a strong leader fit to represent our nation, an inspiration to future generations. My first football memories is of the 2010 World Cup- and us losing it. The only thing I learned was that it isn’t coming home any time soon. Young fans today are much luckier. Whilst our performance on the pitch has so far been lackluster, the teams message off the pitch is something to be welcomed.
Southgate doesn’t just preach to the public in letters, he practises his beliefs. As a Prince’s Trust Ambassador he has helped young people develop leadership and teamwork skills, inspiring a future generation off the pitch. It’s not just him though, his players share and execute these values too. Raheem Sterling, on top of scoring his cheeky winner against Croatia, received an MBE last week for services to racial equality in sport; Captain Harry Kane helped launch the Players Together initiative which helped provide funding for the NHS at the height of the pandemic and Marcus Rashford has been tipped as a future Prime Minister following his campaigns on free school meals and getting young people reading. He also topped the Sunday Times giving list, the youngest person ever to do so.
What better role models could we wish for? It’s safe to say there’s been a change in culture since the days of heavy nights out and dentists’ chairs.
In a strange kind of a way, this squad reminds me of Barack Obama’s first presidential campaign. It was ground-breaking and faced lots of criticism but responded to it with positivity. Punching up not down is always the way to go, the team will never convince gobs-on-sticks like Laurence Fox that taking the knee is the right thing to do. Obama’s catchphrase was ‘Yes we can’-no negativity, no recognition of the racist bigots trolling him and his wife. England have effectively adopted this too, ignoring the trolls and clearly explaining their ethos and why they do things like taking the knee without preaching or being divisive.
In his letter, on players taking the knee and racial equality, Southgate said, “Our players are role models. And, beyond the confines of the pitch, we must recognise the impact they can have on society. We must give them the confidence to stand up for their teammates and the things that matter to them as people.” I was open mouthed when I read this, the courage of a figure like Southgate-a football manager-to defy the boos of his own fans, ignore the words of the Prime Minister and back his players to the hilt. Wow.
What better philosophy than standing up for what you believe in, defying your critics in a positive way, being charitable, representing your nation and inspiring future generations on and off the pitch. That’s what modern Britain should be all about. If we all took a leaf out of their book, how different life could be.
Some question Southgate’s motivations in being so overtly controversial, perhaps he’s seeking a move into politics, maybe he just wants clicks online. Personally, I can see only two reasons. Either he’s a genuinely nice guy using his position to do good, or he’s still seeking redemption for that Euro 96 penalty.
Sorry Gareth, we’re never letting that one go.