By Prof Dr Ian Blackshaw
Gareth Southgate, the Manager of the England Men’s Team, has issued an open letter to England on the eve of the postponed 2020 Euro Football Championship, which begins on 11 June 2021.
This is a heartfelt letter and the full text of the letter can be found on the website of ‘The Players’ Tribune’ at: https://www.theplayerstribune.com/posts/dear-england-gareth-southgate-euros-soccer.
Here, however, are a few extracts from the letter, which is well worth reading in full, with much food for thought for players and supporters a like.
“As we go into this summer, I know that there will be a lot of emotion tied up in the Euros, and in this England team.
There’s something I tell our players before every England game, and the reason that I repeat it is because I really believe it with all my heart.
I tell them that when you go out there, in this shirt, you have the opportunity to produce moments that people will remember for ever.
You are a part of an experience that lasts in the collective consciousness of our country.
Every game, no matter the opposition, has the potential to create a lifelong memory for an England fan somewhere.
Like with our own memories of watching England, everyone has a different idea of what it actually means to be English.
For me, personally, my sense of identity and values is closely tied to my family and particularly my granddad. He was a fierce patriot and proud military man, who served during World War II.
My granddad’s values were instilled in me from a young age and I couldn’t help but think of him when I lined up to sing the national anthem before my first international caps.
My belief is that everyone has that pride. And that includes the players.
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.
It’s their duty to continue to interact with the public on matters such as equality, inclusivity and racial injustice, while using the power of their voices to help to put debates on the table, raise awareness and educate.
Social media has been a key resource in giving our players a platform and has been a positive tool in many ways. In fact, I feel like this generation of England players is closer to supporters than they have been for decades. Despite the polarisation we see in society, these lads are on the same wavelength as you on many issues.
Why would you choose to insult somebody for something as ridiculous as the colour of their skin?
Unfortunately for those people that engage in that kind of behaviour, I have some bad news. You’re on the losing side. It’s clear to me that we are heading for a much more tolerant and understanding society, and I know our lads will be a big part of that.”
He concludes his letter with the following pertinent remarks:
“Of course, my players and I will be judged on winning matches…..
But, the reality is that the result is just a small part of it…..
It’s about how we conduct ourselves, on and off the pitch, how we bring people together, how we inspire and unite, how we create memories beyond the 90 minutes. That last beyond the summer. That last for ever…..
If we can do that, it will be a summer to be proud of.”
There is much food for thought in this letter on what football is all about and quite a sporting - and political - manifesto!