Can England’s likeable lads win the Euros?

OPINION: Once again we hear from many quarters not only that “WE CAN WIN IT THIS TIME” – but also that boss Gareth Southgate has gathered a squad of good guys

Friday, 11th June 2021 — By Richard Osley

England fans football World Cup 2018

SO here we go again: slap on the facepaint and chainmail for a summer of jokes, sneers, oh-so-nears and so on, as England once again dive into a month of hope and inevitable disappointment at an international tournament.

Once again we hear from many quarters not only that “WE CAN WIN IT THIS TIME”, but also that Gareth Southgate has made the team “likeable” again – a refrain reheated from the waistcoat summer of 2018 when everybody agreed that the manager seemed a nice chap for not dropping his haitches and raising our hopes by beating Panama.

It’s an interesting consensus, partly because if the current crop of England players are now so “likeable again”, it begs the awkward question: who were the dislike–ables who came before?

These rotters of the recent past, whoever they are, are at least too polite to mention that Southgate’s squad of good guys includes at least three players who ignored the Covid rules that everybody else had been living under last summer – one smashing their car in the process – and another who somehow managed to get himself arrested outside a Greek bar when the rest of us were stuck at home wondering if we could at least manage a day out in Southend.

Thankfully, we hear more about Marcus Rashford’s attempts to make sure children did not go hungry during the pandemic.

Some people find ways to argue that all the love for the United striker has become too sickly; frustrated that a whole army of unsung volunteers on the frontline might be forgotten if we only focus on a single figurehead, and that politicians have opportunistically latched on to his efforts for their own gains.

But you have to be pretty sour or even… well you know what… if you pick holes in what Rashford has tried to achieve. “Likeable” is almost understating it.

Certainly it would have been hard for Southgate to deliver his state of the nation essay – a polemic released this week in which he essentially urged people to stop being horrid to others in the name of patriotism – if we were to rewind the clock back almost a decade to find the FA in a row with its own captain over whether he had said something racist.

“It’s clear to me that we are heading for a more tolerant and understanding society, and I know our lads will be a big part of that,” dreamed Southgate.

“I understand that on this island, we have a desire to protect our values and our traditions – as we should – but that shouldn’t come at the expense of introspection and progress.”

At a time of dithering political leaders, it was hard not to click on the “like” button. Likeable, yes. Winners? We’ll see.

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