Gareth Southgate has not only led his young England team to a World Cup quarter-final, he has also revealed a sophisticated understanding of the complexities of what it means to be English in an age of upheaval. “We have the chance to affect something bigger than ourselves,” he has said. “We’re a team with our diversity and our youth that represent modern England. In England we have spent a bit of time being a bit lost as to what our modern identity is. I think as a team we represent that modern identity and hopefully people can connect with us.”
Mr Southgate is a patriot but not a nationalist: “Of course, first and foremost I will be judged on football results but you have a chance to affect something bigger.” This remark impressed Ruth Davidson, leader of the Scottish Conservatives, who tweeted: “Really interesting – and impressive – to hear Southgate talking about the power of sport to influence national and cultural identity in these terms.”
After the bitterness and divisions of the Brexit referendum, Mr Southgate, through his dignity and humility, has shown a different face to the world: what we might even call the beginnings of a new progressive Englishness.
This article appears in the 04 Jul 2018 issue of the New Statesman, England in the age of Brexit