My advice to Gareth Southgate

12 June 2021

9:00 AM

12 June 2021

9:00 AM

This is a difficult issue to raise on the eve of a major football tournament, but as a progressive individual I am deeply disturbed by the England manager Gareth Southgate’s reverence for Sir Winston Churchill. Twice in the past this man who holds English football’s most important position has cited his apparent hero. Once, commenting on his predecessor Sven-Goran Eriksson’s performance at halftime in the 2002 World Cup quarter final against Brazil, he said: ‘We needed Churchill. We got Iain Duncan Smith.’ And then a few years later when asked if the England team should have a foreign manager, he said: ‘With England I want an Englishman who’s going to say: “Remember Churchill.”’

Never mind the rank xenophobia of that notion — do we really want someone in such a prominent position who reveres a racist and a bigot? I mention this now because digging up comments made long ago by current sportsmen in order to destroy their careers seems very much the rage at the moment. Perhaps we can get Gareth cancelled, hopefully before he has time to make his usual dog’s breakfast of managing the opening game against Croatia, by leaving Jack Grealish on the bench and instructing his side to play with all the verve and guile of a block of Davidstow cheddar cheese.

Southgate’s instalment as manager of the national side would be a mystery to anyone who was not familiar with the workings of the Football Association. He had won nothing whatsoever as a club manager — indeed his only experience as a club manager was to skilfully shepherd a perfectly decent Middlesbrough side from the Premier League down into the Championship. He was chosen, one assumes, because he seems a pleasant, polite man and isn’t a crook. Under his tutelage the current England side have regressed markedly in the past two years. Perhaps the best or second-best crop of talent in Europe — but you wouldn’t know it to watch them. Where there was once pace and daring there is now tortuous predictability and a grave lack of confidence. Perhaps he can put it right during this tournament — I hope so, but doubt it.

More to the point, though, he has created a truly toxic atmosphere between the squad and the supporters (i.e. the people who, in the end, pay his salary). In continuing to encourage that his players perform the divisive and ludicrous act of ‘taking a knee’, he has estranged the majority of football fans across the country, plus several million more people who couldn’t give a monkey’s about football. A large proportion of fans booed the knee-bending nonsense in both of England’s warm-up games, against Austria and Romania. Southgate’s response was to double down, to use that ubiquitous phrase, by suggesting the fans were too thick to understand why the knee was taken. Charming.

But au contraire, Gareth. It is you who are a bit thick. There has been widespread booing at every single game at which the knee has been taken by players, which is why below the Premier League most clubs have stopped it. Every single game. Sometimes clubs play music to drown it out — as the FA is considering ahead of England’s Euro games — but it’s still there. Sometimes clubs hector the fans by telling them not to boo — but they boo all the same.

The people boo not because they are racist, as Southgate and the idiotic commentators feel moved to suggest, but because they loathe the gesture. They loathe it, firstly, because it is the symbol of a movement they loathe, Black Lives Matter. It is not the anti-racist element of BLM that they loathe, but the rest of it — the Marxism, the critical race theory stuff, the corrosive hatred towards capitalism and white people. It is not the slightest use Southgate trying to tell us that it’s not about that. That is like making a Nazi salute and claiming it’s nothing to do with Hitler — it simply isn’t true.

They also loathe the knee-bending because it is the almost perfect expression of top-down corporate virtue-signalling which does nothing whatsoever to improve relations between races — indeed, can only make them worse. It is a peculiarly modern form of showing off. As I’ve mentioned before, knee-bending snuck through under the shroud of Covid: if the grounds had been full of fans last August it wouldn’t have lasted a week. So much excremental rubbish has snuck through on account of Covid: in a democracy, you need to hear the people.

In fairness, it is not entirely Southgate’s fault. He is spurred on by the dim-witted commentators and pundits, who are too petrified or stupid to offer a counter-balancing view. And then there are Southgate’s prefects — the football writers in the daily national press who depend for their existences upon the crumbs from ol’ horse-face’s breakfast table. I would say to them: read the comments below the line when you make sententious statements about how taking the knee is a wonderful thing and should last for, perhaps, ever. See what your readers think — even in the liberal papers.

If Southgate wanted to do something meaningful for inter-race relations, he could do what the players of my club, Millwall, do — which is have the team standing united under a banner reading ‘Kick out racism’ (which brought cheers from the Millwall crowd). Or he could donate a portion of his salary to Tony Sewell’s excellent charity, Generating Genius, which works to ensure disadvantaged black (and increasingly, these days, white) kids get to go to top universities.

Or he could just concentrate on trying to pick a half-decent team for once. When did it occur that sportspeople must be politically progressive and pristine? Why are we now scouring through the back pages of cricket-ers in an attempt to convict them of having been unwoke when they were 18? And then ruining their careers? Why must everybody be in accord with this tendentious and authoritarian programme?

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