Gareth Southgate proud as England unites

England's head coach Gareth Southgate is relishing his side's last-four clash against Croatia. Pic: Getty Images
England's head coach Gareth Southgate is relishing his side's last-four clash against Croatia. Pic: Getty Images
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They say sport and 
politics shouldn’t mix; which is a shame given the England football team has united their nation behind them while ­Brexit has split it down the middle.

England manager Gareth Southgate has broken factions and eradicated entitlement which had existed in previous squads, so he could charge a small fortune in consultation fees for the Conservatives after the World Cup.

Intentionally or not, Southgate has made a political statement with his football team. He speaks of pride at having an England squad reflective of his country’s diverse society.

They are black and white and shades in between. They have grandparents or parents from different countries, or were born and grew up abroad yet still call England home.

Eric Dier, pictured right, grew up in Portugal. Jesse Lingard’s grandparents came from St Vincent and the Grenadines. Harry Kane’s grandfather was Irish. Raheem Sterling was born in Jamaica. Dele Alli’s father is Nigerian. This could go on.

The Migration Museum erected a digital banner outside London’s Billingsgate Market explaining what England’s strongest XI, which started the first match against Tunisia and will start again against Croatia tonight, would look like minus the impact of first and second-generation immigrants.

Southgate would have been left with goalkeeper Jordan Pickford, defenders John Stones and Harry Maguire, right wing-back Kieran 
Trippier and midfield anchor Jordan Henderson. Which would be enough for a particularly robust five-a-side team which would not concede many goals, but lack someone to finish off up front.

“We’re really proud of the support we’re receiving,” Southgate said. “We’ve had the chance to make a difference. Our supporters, our country has had a long time of ­suffering in terms of football.

“The enthusiasm they have for these players, not only because of the way they’ve played but how they’ve conducted themselves. They’ve been brilliant ambassadors for our country, everybody can see they are proud to wear the shirt. It’s great for them that they’ve got some enjoyable experiences now playing for England. Our country has been through some difficult moments recently in terms of its unity, and sport has the power to [unite]. Football in particular has the power to do that. We can feel the energy and feel support from home and it’s a very special feeling, a privilege.”

Let’s face it, somewhere along the line we were all from somewhere else, and this World Cup is a glorious example of that. A large portion of the French national team have African roots. Most of South America was populated by Europeans and Africans. A lot of the Belgians left the country in their teens to learn about football, and life, in nearby countries.

Nowadays, it is impossible to completely separate sport and showbiz and politics. The president of the United States is a billionaire reality TV star. Boxer Manny Pacquiao is a senator of the Philippines. Vitali Klitschko, another boxer, is mayor of Kiev. Former Chelsea and AC Milan striker Andrei Shevchenko is a Ukrainian politician. Arnold Schwarzenegger served two terms as governor of California. It is surely not long until John Terry runs in a local election.

Southgate has been talked up as a Brexit consultant or the next prime minister. As a fashion icon who has revived the waistcoat. He’s not actually all that comfortable with the whole thing. He is deeply private about his family, and wants to vanish back home when the World Cup is over. If he had the choice between being hounded by paparazzi or living in a cave, sustained only by the food he is able to hunt and gather cooked over an open fire he has lit from scratch (Southgate is clearly the type of bloke who can light a fire from scratch), he would opt for the latter.

“Let me tell you, whether we win or lose the game, my life will not change,” Southgate said. “I will go home, take the dogs for a run, disappear to Yorkshire, but it is of course a chance to be involved in something incredibly special.

“I have been in sport in different areas for long enough to know what my life is day-to-day. I will get more attention and it won’t be easy to go out for meals if I am in certain places but it won’t change my view on the world or the things I attempt to do.”