Some Scottish football fans felt unusually conflicted about England’s loss at the Euro 2020 Championship final on Sunday. And it’s all Gareth Southgate’s fault.
The former player has moved the goalposts when it comes to intelligent, tolerant and humble leadership, and the entire world has taken note.
While a number of England fans appear to be resolutely stuck in the football hooliganism heyday of their national team’s past, the squad itself has evolved beyond recognition under the influence of their manager.
Even to the untrained eye, it is clear that Southgate has successfully killed machismo on the pitch with kindness.
The images of him embracing his young, disappointed players 25 years after his own infamous 1996 penalty miss are undeniably moving. Of course he understands the pressure and pain but, perhaps more importantly, he encourages open vulnerability and the healthy processing of emotions as they are felt.
Southgate is teaching that there should be no punishment for trying
Gone are the days when hot tempered or violent outbursts were the only way for football players – and sportsmen of all kinds – to channel their frustration in public.
We have also said goodbye to the era when footballers made headlines for wild nights out and immoral, if not illegal, behaviour.
Today’s England players have opposed racism, championed LGBT rights, fed school children living in poverty, called out online abuse and much more. All are under the age of 32, and some much younger.
It is not to say that Gareth Southgate is by any means directly responsible for these admirable actions, but he has supported his team unwaveringly. Heart is plainly at the core of his management style.
To paraphrase another famous athlete, Michael Jordan, if you’re afraid to fail you may never attempt anything. Southgate is teaching a generation of footballers – and, consequently, a generation of children watching at home – that there should be no punishment for trying.
We hope this type of positive influence that currently feels so rare becomes the norm in UK football going forward.
The Voice of the North is The Press & Journal’s editorial stance on what we think is the most important story of the day