Sterling, Southgate et al. represent the *real* England

Date published: Friday 9th July 2021 9:48 - Editor F365

Raheem Sterling

We’ve moved on from the penalty. But keep your mails on anything else coming to


How can you dislike this England team?
I was going to write in about Southgate and the penalty and all that, but no doubt it will be covered by others and so I’m going to talk about the England team from an outsiders point of view.

I’m from Ireland, it’s ingrained in us from an early age that we support Ireland and whoever England is playing. Despite this, I was never really one for disliking England, just because it was England. Now, that being said, there was always a reason for disliking England: the “fans” smashing up town centres all over Europe; the media falling over themselves to proclaim England as the greatest of all time before turning on the players; John Terry; and that bloody brass band.

This Euros has been different though. Covid, thankfully, has saved us all from seeing the vocal minority of English fans standing around, shirtless, outside bars in the centre of whatever town is unlucky enough to be hosting them that week, singing songs about their grandfathers’ wars or aggressively shouting at the police and/or other fans. We’re not seeing clips of them chucking chairs and bottles at police or people who happened to be wearing whatever colour has been deemed unacceptable that day.

Although, the ridiculousness that is the England fans booing the national anthems of their opposition does remind us all that these guys are still there, and for some reason they’re the ones who are getting tickets to watch England play. Why boo someone’s national anthem? What does that accomplish apart from making you look like a tit?

But I think the biggest difference with this Euros is that this England team seem like the antithesis of the England we’ve been seeing more and more of over the last 5 or 6 years. In a week in which the UK Government announced legislation making it illegal to help desperate people crossing the seas, this England team, full of the sons or grandsons of immigrants, showed a better side of England. It showed what England could be.

I mean, how can you dislike a team which has guys like Marcus Rashford, Raheem Sterling, and Jordan Henderson in it? They seem to genuinely want to make a difference and they should be applauded for that.

I know the tabloids and the social media trolls will do their best to turn people against England for the rest of the week (as they’ve been trying to do since the start of the tournament), but with Southgate in charge and a seemingly genuinely nice group of lads in the squad, it’s going to be hard.

I won’t be shouting for England on Sunday evening but I won’t be shouting for Italy either. Ireland aren’t there so I don’t really care who actually wins it. I know the social media trolls and the tabloids will be unbearable if England win, but I think I’ll be happy for the young fellas on the pitch if they do. I might be deluding myself, but I prefer to think that they’re the accurate representation of England, not the perpetually angry, In-Ger-Land, World War 2 fetishists.
Jerry, Ireland


First things first, I am an Irishman (one of those Northern Irish who is allowed to say he’s Irish) who has a real soft spot for this particular England squad.  What is there not to like?  Rashford feeding the kids and keeping the Government in check? Brilliant.  Sterling standing up and calling out racism when and where it occurs?  Excellent work.  Henderson and Maguire taking the lead in that Captains for the NHS thing that seems a million years ago but was a year ago?  Fantastic work all round.

Southgate and his players taking the knee in the face of abuse from their own fans, outrage in the media and the scorn of Government ministers (who later jump on the bandwagon with England shirts on over their normal clothes – dafuck is that about btw?)?  Brilliant stuff.  Southgate in general is an absolute joy; redemption, articulation, social consciousness, determined and self-assured.  He has brought a gravitas to the role and a likeability to the England team that, as an Irishman, I can assure you has not always been apparent to the neutral.

But it is the other little stories and things that help as well.  Things like Pickford knowing he is a bit of liability at times so being very open about seeing a psychologist to help him stay calm during games and think more clearly.  A string of very assured and undramatic appearances (with the possible exception of last night) throughout the tournament have shown the merits of this approach.  And Luke Shaw.  Luke bloody Shaw.  I am a Man United fan so I have seen the flourishes of brilliance from Shaw before his broken leg, the frustrating and frustrated player who came back from that injury, the young man being openly ridiculed by his club manager and the developing excellence of this past season.  To see Luke Shaw now being an integral part of an England squad he probably never dreamed of being in is an absolute joy.

Harry Kane and Sterling and Grealish dive about a bit but tend to invite contact and then sell that contact rather than outright diving for nothing so that is just part and parcel of the game these days.  Shouldn’t be, but it is.

England’s play has been patient and controlled and at times explosive and brilliant to watch.  Sterling has been incredible throughout the tournament and all those whispers about Pep wanting to move him on from City have fairly died down.  Rice and Phillips have formed a magnificent partnership and have been a real unit throughout.

Even the normally overly jingoistic punditry has subsided during this tournament.  They want England to win of course but there is much more focus on the actual analysis and the actual performances rather than the normal bollocks we are subjected to.  Perhaps a conscious choice given the pressure that all of that usually puts on the players, and the political environment being such that jingoism and nationalism are not appealing traits to promote these days for the likes of Neville, Wright, Ferdinand and Lineker and co.

All in all an excellent tournament actually made more enjoyable by a successful England campaign.  Who’d have thunk it, eh?

Sam Matterface must go though, obviously.
Mangore United, Belfast


Genuine vested interest
For years like many contributors to the mailbox during World Cups and European Cups have often felt relieved when England exited in the early knockout stages or group and can then all settle down and watch the good teams – perhaps even give my non-committal backing to one team to keep an edge in watching -without worrying if England might face them later.
I almost thought I preferred this but the last World Cup and now this one has comprehensively exploded this as a mere coping mechanism for the general dearth in quality when England play where we regularly failed to trouble even modest opposition. It feels great to have a genuine vested interest in the outcome of a major international tournament.
Red Tom – The Hague


Change the narrative
As fans we are obviously invested in the outcome of sunday. Unfortunately we can’t affect that outcome.

What we can do is revel in the excitement for the next few days. I hope please reflect in this time and appreciate how rare it is, and how these players have achieved more than any side (except for 1966).

Regardless of the outcome, I hope fans remember this feeling and, club alligencies aside, give every player in the squad the recognition they deserve as they travel to your stadium next season.

Sterling showed stamina and desire to be still terrifying their defence after close to 2 hours of football, that should be respected.

I’m not asking Man U fans to clap him through 90 minutes of a Manchester derby, but before the game kicks off, show your recognition for what he, and the other players have done this summer.

There’s no political connotations to a clap and a cheer.

Gareth and this England squad have changed the view and narrative around our national team, we too can make individual and collective changes to show we see it, we care, we are grateful for the journey and most importantly, it’s not forgotten.
Richard Magson


Coping with the highs and lows
We live in strange times indeed. The era of Social Media has ushered in a new kind of psychological issue that human beings have never really faced before, and one we are indeed struggling to overcome. That is, the issue of “offence”. Of course, this in itself is as old as time, and as I understand it, there are two definitions. The first, to be an a criminal act; to commit an offence. The second, is to simply feel offended…or take offence to something. The problem we face now, particularly because of Social Media, is that the two definitions have become so tightly intertwined that as a society, we are struggling to cope with feeling offended, and it manifests in a way that makes us believe an offence has been committed. These are two very separate ideas, that should remain separated, because when combined they create dangerous psychological territory for people to navigate through. Young people especially. Rather than write a thesis in how this manifests through society in all its forms (Far more educated people will do a far better job), I want to just focus on how I believe it is changing the perspective with which many readers view football.

Let us first consider the raft of emails attacking everything about this England squad from the manager, the selection of the squad, the coaches, the tactics, the matchday squad, the subs, the good fortune, and everything else. The sheer negativity of it all. To me, this is not indicative of anything particularly right or wrong about England in this tournament, but instead, some inherent issue with the psychology of the people writing these mails. My point is simply this;

I believe we now have a generation of fans that are unable to cope with the lows of the game.

They love the highs. We all do. But sport is always about both, about opinion, about controversy. The ‘modern’ fan has no idea how to cope with the emotion brought up when the squad selection isn’t what they wanted. When the team doesn’t play like they want. When the manager doesn’t do what they think is best. When the team is fortunate rather than deserving. Anything. Because it isn’t really about anything, it is about the psychology of the fan. We have large portions of society that are not response able; in other words, unable to respond to their own emotional or stressful state of mind when viewing football. They are offended by what they see, not understanding that the offence is actually from how they feel emotionally…and how they feel often comes from an issue within. And rather than grow stronger and find better ways to regulate the emotional and stressful state they find themselves in, they instead grow weaker and weaker, to the point where they miss everything that is great about what they are watching, because they can’t move past the offensive emotion stirred up within. We all have moment like this in life, but we shouldn’t when watching a sport that we love.

So they tweet, they write emails, they do everything they can to whinge and moan about every little thing they can think of that has pissed them off about the great game. Because to feel such a level of discomfort  whilst watching the game feels like some kind of offence has been committed against them, when really they have simply taken offence to their own internal state of being whilst watching. And they don’t know how to regulate that in a calm, mature manner. Quite simply, because it isn’t what they want to see. And that is most important. More important than any discussion the England camp have behind closed doors, more important than what Gareth see’s in training, more important than reaching this final for the first time in history. It isn’t good enough, because they didn’t do it the way they wanted. It is that simple. It is childish, and I don’t mean that to be insulting. It literally is. When young people aren’t given the optimal environment to thrive and grow, the become stunted and parts of their psychology remain childlike, long into adulthood. Of course, we can all have opinions and disagree on everything about football. But I believe we have gone far beyond that now, and it isn’t healthy for us individually or for the game itself.

So I say to all you fans of England out there who have struggled through the highs and lows of this rollercoaster of a tournament, and still feel compelled to attack rather than support this wonderful achievement, please, please do some soul searching and look within. The problem is not England, or Gareth, or VAR…it is you. There is nothing quite so sad as seeing a grown adult act like a child, genuinely. I honestly feel so sad for you all, because your issues are disconnecting you from the sheer joy, elation and inspiration that football can give you. Let your guard down, don’t be so bloody offended and hurt at everything you disagree with and enjoy football for what it is…a highly opinionated, skilful, wonderful sport filled with controversy. Embrace the bad times as well as the good, and look forward to what should be a wonderful occasion on Sunday. Win or Lose, football, like life, is a journey to be enjoyed..and if you cannot embrace everything good about the last few weeks and instead are fixated on the bad then all I can say, quite simply, is this;

Grow. The. Fuck. Up.

Peace an Love to you all.
Tommy (Woke up all philosophical) Vincent


Harry Vederci
It has occurred to me that the point has not been ubiquitously made that it is now glaringly obvious that Sterling’s relatively poor league season can simply be attributed to the lack of a suitable forward to link play beside him. Considering the season ahead, if City do purchase Kane, there is a partnership to be faced with great trepidation. For Saka, read Mahrez/Silva/Foden, with the latter oddly being one of the tournament’s under-performers, mainly due to the sparsity of his opportunities since what should now be known as The Warm Up stage.

I have no doubt young Phil’s time will come (hopefully with a winner on Sunday!), but for now we can look forward to cheering on the eleven that dismissed an organised and potent Denmark with the same eagerness that he will surely be awaiting his next trip to the barbers. Having watched Mason Mount’s defensive contributions more intently on Wednesday night, it seems obvious that he can hustle Jorginho enough to disrupt and neutralise him in his role as passmaster. Given that Spain enjoyed 70% possession, we can actually look to dominate the ball versus Italy (I can’t believe I’m saying this).

That said, my main reason for optimism is that Italy’s defence are yet to face inside forwards with electrifying pace. In Sterling and Saka, we have two players who can both dribble and make penetrating runs in behind. Bonucci and Chiellini are unquestionably a legendary pairing, but they are yet to face such intelligent movement in combination with a forward who drops off and links play as exceptionally as Kane does. Spain certainly had enough of the ball to win, but none of Olmo, Torres, Oyarzabal, Moreno and Morata were ever going to trouble the two defensive pillars to a great enough degree, despite Morata’s goal.

So, in line with my semi final prediction, I’m going with 2-1 England, Kane and Sterling to do the business once again. It’s coming home, possibly quickly followed by Kane leaving his Spurs home.
AC in Milan (a celebratory rendition of Three Lions in Piazza del Duomo on Sunday night could simultaneously be my best and worst move if it comes to that)


Hail Gareth
I don’t really have anything to add about last night’s match, other than I was strangely calm throughout the whole match.

However just wanted to say that regardless of the result on Sunday, Gareth Southgate has to be considered England’s second best manager after Sir Alf Ramsey.

Even discounting the glorified friendlies competition that was Nations League, England have made the final and semi final of the last two major tournaments.

He has bettered what Sir Bobby Robson what achieved between Mexico 86 & Italia 90 and what Sven did between Japorea 2002 and Germany 2006.

Gareth might not be most folks first choice as a manager for their club, but he’s proven he’s up to international standard.
Simon, London


I wrote in before the tournament and said that Southgate would be too cautious, wouldn’t let our attacking players loose, and that we wouldn’t get past the quarters.  I said Sterling shouldn’t start and I would’ve hooked Kane before the Germany game.

Well, I was wrong.  And I’m delighted to hold my hands up and say so.

Two things from the Denmark game have finally turned me into a Southgate believer.  The first was how the whole team reacted to going a goal behind (I can’t be the only one who thought “Aww sh*t.  Here we go again”) and the second was when he subbed Grealish.  It was the correct thing to do but that still took balls.

The absence of any hissy-fit behaviour or player leaks about bust-ups/cliques in the dressing room also points to a settled, focussed, and happy team.  I’ve been pleasantly surprised as to the number of journalists who have pointed out how relaxed and positive this England team has been in interviews.  That’s got to be down to the manager as well.

Sunday’s game will be the first England fixture in my lifetime that I’m not looking at with trepidation.  Quite the opposite.  Something I would never have believed after the utter bottomless pit of despair, disbelief, and anger that was the Iceland game!  And that is entirely down to one man.

Arise Sir Gareth.
Mark (Still would’ve dropped Kane, mind) MCFC.

Southgate England


This armchair manager…
This armchair manager wouldn’t have taken this squad to the Euros, way too unbalanced. And, I would have found a place for Dele Alli who has bags of tournament experience, hardly played this season so super fit and links well with Harry Kane. Obvious. Every manager needs a surprise selection in a squad, it’s the rules.

This armchair manager wouldn’t’ have started the team that Southgate started in the first game, a right back at left back, ridiculous decision. Also I’d have dropped Pickford for someone else who’s taller. Probably would have got a solid draw with Croatia. A good start, they beat us before you know.

This armchair manager would have easily won the Scotland game, all guns blazing here six attacking players minimum, Grealish 100% starts. Doesn’t matter about the tournament as a whole because England don’t win them so make sure UK bragging rights are secured. 3-0 win and the country is buzzing.

This armchair manager is a tactical thinker. Whatever happens avoid the French, they are by far the best team, do what’s needed to get through but not play France. Playing at home isn’t a priority, avoiding France is. Also I’ve dropped Harry Kane as he looked leggy , officially I’ve rested him. We draw and qualify. Job done.

This armchair manager is now playing Germany in the last sixteen. Change the shape, not playing Phillips he plays for a mid-table team, he’s dropped for a not fully fit Henderson because Henderson has won stuff. A scrappy game ensues, I throw on Sterling (you didn’t think I started him did you?) as a last throw of the dice but it ends in bore draw. We lose on penalties. Of course we do. Sterling and Dele miss and I’m pictured giving them a hug as we’re booed off the pitch. I’m immediately offered a two year extension to my contract by the FA.

OK so this armchair manager finds himself in the quarters against Ukraine. We put in a decent performance but Henderson is now crocked and out of the tournament and we lose two decent players for picking up yellow cards. We win 2-1. I recalled Harry Kane and he scores a penalty. Rashford get the other and makes himself un-droppable.

This armchair manager is now in the Semi’s against the Danes. I’m pictured in The Sun next to a British bull dog eating a (Danish) bacon sandwich under the headline it’s coming bone. We go behind to a stunning free kick. At half time I change things about and go back to my six attacking players that breezed past Scotland. We get hit on the counter. 2-0, we get a late goal and then a controversial VAR decision goes against us. We lose but it was because of VAR not me or the players.

The armchair manager wishes Sir Gareth and all the squad the best of luck in the final. It’s not an easy as it looks!
Alan Martin


Just enjoy it…
I’m watching the video of the England players having a singalong with the crowd at Wembley. It’s magnificent. It’s joyous. It’s everything you want after a year and a half stuck in the house.

If your reaction to that game was to send an angry letter for strangers on the internet to read, I don’t know what to say to you. Maybe go find something else to do with your time? Because football’s not bringing you any joy.

It’s fine. Go find something else. Let people be happy and find some happiness yourself.
Andy N (tequila-sodden in Salford)


The unbearable one
This final is going to be unbelievably tense for me.

Going to a wedding in Sicily next month and will be the only English person there.

Hoping I will be the unbearable one there.
Andy, Menorca


‘Easily fingered’
I can’t believe in the article about ITV’s commentary last night there was no mention of a shot being ‘easily fingered by Jordan Pickford’. Has any save ever been referred to as fingered before, let alone easily fingered?

I thought I had imagined it until it was mentioned on a call this morning.

Other than that the article was spot on
Cheers, JR


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