Evening Standard Comment: Gareth Southgate’s England team has shown us true leadership

·2-min read
 (Christian Adams)
(Christian Adams)

The joyous scenes at Wembley last night cascaded across a nation that has for 16 months enjoyed little cheer.

It was not the clearest penalty, nor was it even converted first time, but it was a goal that will live long in the memory for one special reason: it took England to their first major final since you know when.

It also served as a reminder that you do not have to like football to love football. That an absence of knowledge surrounding the latest update to the offside law is no hindrance to cheering in wild jubilation when your team scores or screaming into the void when a good chance goes begging.

In an era when moments of national importance — where we are all watching or doing the same thing — feel ever rarer, last night was an opportunity to be a little more together.

Winning a football match, even a European Championships, does not of course redress all this country’s problems, from Covid to climate change. But it is one heck of a tonic.

For it is hard not to like this England team, filled with young, talented and kind men. Players who have ignored the misguided criticism of their taking of the knee by senior ministers, only to find those very politicians now leaning into their success for electoral gain.

A Government that all too often leans anti-youth, anti-woke, anti-city where young people often flock. This England side is an antidote to all that.

Indeed, the team is in many ways the opposite of our government operation. Disciplined, serious, unifying and honest, in Gareth Southgate, it is led by a man who sticks to his principles and has instilled in his side a belief in teamwork and mutual respect so lacking in other aspects of public life.

There is of course the small matter of Italy in the final, a nation of awesome footballing pedigree and a people who know all too well the pain and suffering Covid-19 has wrought.

But we believe. The hurt of the past has never stopped us dreaming.

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