ENDA MCEVOY: There’s no Brexiteer entitlement about Southgate’s England

And does it mean anything more than that we have a very good team and an even better manager? Probably not, although I’d like to make the point – not for the first time – that there’s nothing wrong with Britain. It’s just the politicians who keep letting us down.
- Nigel Lawson, future chancellor of the exchequer, writing after the 1966 World Cup final.

And does it mean anything more than that we have a very good team and an even better manager? Probably not, although I’d like to make the point – not for the first time – that there’s nothing wrong with Britain. It’s just the politicians who keep letting us down.” 

Nigel Lawson, future chancellor of the exchequer, writing after the 1966 World Cup final.

Two cheers for Super Mario. Great goal the other night, but its implications are mixed ones for Examiner readers.

On the one hand he spared us four more days of national debate over the rights and wrongs of supporting England at the World Cup — in the final, no less. Think of all the agonised, and agonising, furrow-browed op-ed pieces that will not see the light of day this weekend, earnestly arguing that it would be a sign of our new ‘confidence’ and ‘maturity’ as a nation to cheer for the neighbours. Phew.

On the other hand Mandzukic has rendered tomorrow’s match the nearest thing possible to null and void from an Irish point of view. France or Croatia: Do you really care? Had England been there you’d have at least cared one way or the other. It would have been the next best thing to Tipp playing.

The Super 8 folk, then, needn’t worry too much about rival attractions. Your correspondent will be in Thurles and won’t be worrying too much either. If I make it home in time for the second half from Moscow, grand. If I don’t, grand. The latter is not a statement my eight-year-old self would have envisaged me making.

Which or whether, England got as far in Russia as they were entitled to get — shades of Ireland at Italia ‘90 — and well done to them. Rather more importantly, something changed along the way. As Liam Brady correctly put it on Wednesday night, Gareth Southgate “made them likeable”.

This was a modest team. The secret of their success in making the last four was they realised precisely that. Thus they practised set-pieces and ended up scoring goals from corners. They didn’t emulate their predecessors by dismissing penalties as “a lottery”, so often the dismissive, uncomprehending English kneejerk in defeat — they practised those too and thereby won a shootout. They had a psychologist but treated her as just another member of the backroom team rather than a potential voodoo accessory.

The road to the top that many of them had travelled tempered them. Pickford and his red cards at Bradford City and his wry memories of “places like Wrexham and Southport away when there are not that many people there. They were the hardest places to play. You are a young lad and you’re having abuse hurled at you. That is what teaches you and that’s what you laugh about now.”

Trippier failing to make the grade with Manchester City and coming back in through the window with Burnley. Kane’s infamous loan spells at Millwall and Leicester City. Dele Alli may be a snide piece of work on the field, but off it he’s the eldest of four children, each of them the offspring of a different father, and in his younger days he had to be fostered out in order to keep him from hanging around with the wrong people.

The Wags? John Terry’s ego? The fetishisation of the fourth-best player in his own midfield at Manchester United? Stevie G prancing around trying to make every ball a Hollywood ball? Thankfully distant memories. Same shirt, different mindset.

Amid the convulsion of cheap English nationalism of the past two years, they were never more acutely needed, this bunch of late bloomers and myriad skin tones and young men who came from modest or unenviable backgrounds to make the most of themselves.

They are not Brexiteers. There is no braying self-entitlement on show here, no unwillingness to accept that life is a compromise or that the rest of the world is duty-bound to abide by a British stamp of the foot. Gunboat diplomacy died a long time ago. Contrast Pickford et al with Boris Johnson, the mé-feiner’s mé-feiner, or Jacob Rees-Mogg, another cleverly packaged vacuum of a man.

The Daily Telegraph, a serious newspaper, accused Theresa May during the week of treachery, a charge as grave as it is possible to make of a prime minister and a clear incitement to hatred, two years after the murder of the MP Jo Cox by a white nationalist nutjob. Nigel Lawson, incidentally, lives in the south of France these days and argues for Brexit.

Not that we can sneer, naturally. We return Michael Lowry and the Healy-Raes time after time. Perhaps people everywhere do get the politicians they deserve.

Poor Mrs May, stranded in a reality TV show in which she swapped her true vocation as the brisk, competent headmistress of a respectable girls’ school for life on an alligator farm, is surely not long for this world as PM. In that case there’s only one possible successor.

He is decent and dignified and diplomatic. He can work with the media and prevent minor incidents like compromising photographs festering into warfare. He understands how systems operate and how to match people to them. He wears a waistcoat with panache. He even made Kieran Trippier look like Carlos Alberto.

Gareth Southgate, your country has never needed you more.

Striking gold on track

One hates to use the term ‘golden generation’. It should probably be banned, for everyone’s sake. It most certainly should not be employed when the sample size consists of so few people.

So how, then, do we describe the young Irish ladies who lit up the European U18 athletics championships in Hungary last weekend?

Double gold for Sarah Healy in the 1500m and 3000m, both in championship record times. Gold for Rhasidat Adeleke in the 200m. Silver for Sophie O’Sullivan in the 800m.

Then the form of Ciara Neville and Gina Akpe-Moses in the 100m, and their team-mates on the 4x100m relay at the world U20s in Finland.

It’s been a long time since Ireland had an athlete we were able to spend years getting behind. Way back to Sophie O’Sullivan’s mammy, as it happens.

Will any of the quintet go on to be world or European champions as adults? Very possibly not. But following their progress will be a pleasant and refreshing exercise. Just like old times, indeed.

Here come the girls.

Heroes & villains

Stairway to Heaven 

Stephen Cluxton: “The best player that has ever played the game in that position,” according to Jim McGuinness.

Serena Williams: On the verge of a 24th grand slam title, five months after finishing her maternity leave.

Hell in a handcart 

Thibault Courtois: Accused France of “being anti-football”. Nobody likes a semi-final crybaby.

Kevin Durant: The Golden State Warriors star got in an Instagram spat with a 17-year-old he told to “go sweep your dorm room… you’re like 12”. Like, mature and stuff.


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