A potted history and multi-interviewee analysis of England manager Gareth Southgate kept trying to not mention penalty misses, while continually referencing penalty misses (17 June, 5.40pm,). “We just cannot let it go,” grieved Alan Shearer. Others feigned interest in Southgate’s education (“He could have done A levels!”) and his wrangling over managerial fees (“Gareth knows his worth”). And there was a sweet story about how, as a young player, he would go around super-companionably shaking hands with the opposing team, even if they had just crucified his side Crystal Palace, inviting them back to the pub for pies and pints like something out of a Leonard Gribble novel, until his boss suggested he ditch football as a career and become a travel agent (“Gareth welled up a bit”).
But the penalty ever-hovered. Southgate will eternally be poised to take that kick on the Euro pitch, feeling the cubic yardage of gasped air on his skin during a rare moment in history – 1996 – when culture and football perfectly aligned. (Even when he went on his honeymoon to Bali afterwards, he was reminded of his heartbreak by an exasperated Buddhist monk.) Presenter Mark Coles tends towards sarcasm in his voice anyway, but when former teammate Simon Osborn said, “Gareth’s your Steady Eddie, a seven out of ten,” Coles totally let rip: “Seven out of ten, is that enough to win us the World Cup?” Tch – cheap shot.
But generally, this was a programme that understood how sick people are of negativity. The mood of the country is simply not for picking up the Sun and seeing “COWARDS” splayed across it. There was in the programme’s air the sneaking feeling that we will play poorly but might do better than we expect. (Southgate is decent, a comprehender of his limitations, and a man with a system and a fondness for steady English yeoman hard runners. But he is too suspicious of talent. No Jack Wilshere in the team. No Sessegnon!)
Anyway, for now, our national expectations are lowered and we are all thoroughly enjoying congratulating ourselves for being mature about it. While secretly getting behind Senegal.
Profile: Gareth Southgate
BBC Radio 4
This article appears in the 20 Jun 2018 issue of the New Statesman, Conservatives in crisis