CamdenNewJournal

The independent London newspaper

Southgate’s idea of patriotism is a breath of fresh air

08 July, 2021

‘England boss Gareth Southgate is more popular than the prime minister’

AT least 25 million people watched England’s sensational victory against Denmark last night (Wednesday).

Gareth Southgate will be hailed as a national hero. He is arguably already comfortably more popular than the prime minister.

Boris Johnson will no doubt be hoping that a historic all-conquering England team victory will provide him with a post-Brexit polls-boost.

But Southgate does not subscribe to that particular brand of nationalism, or the triumphalism that goes with it.

In his essay about a new modern patriotism, Southgate writes about how the younger generation’s notion of Englishness is quite different from the one he grew up with.

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

It is extraordinary enough to have an England manager capable of such eloquence, but also one who realises how he can put his public position to good use.

He writes about how it is his and the players’ “duty” – as celebrities – to speak out “on matters such as equality, inclusivity and racial injustice”.

He promotes the idea that his team, like the country, is made up of people who have come down different roads and from a broad range of backgrounds. They are all representing the same place.

Of course all this might be simply the product of a corporate PR-makeover dreamt up by the FA.

But it does stand in stark contrast to the dialogue of major tournaments of old, along the lines of “we are better than you because we are England”.

The country’s football team, and its hooligans abroad, have for many years represented an unacceptable face of English nationalism.

And the St George’s Cross and Union Jack flag, like it or not, have for decades been inextricably linked with racism and far-right ideology.

For many immigrants living in Camden, it will still be a symbol of hate on their doorsteps.

There’s a reason why Boris Johnson looks more comfortable in front of a red and white flag than Keir Starmer.

Despite this, there will be many people on the Left who will recoil in horror to see Labour Party politicians posing for social media photos while draped in a red and white flag.

Southgate is trying his best to nurture a progressive kind of patriotism. His diverse team continues to take the knee, despite the heavy criticism. It may not be the perfect symbolism, but the anti-racism debate continues as a result.

The Southgate style of football is at times crushingly pragmatic, at times bordering on downright dull. But his message, for an England manager at least, is refreshingly radical.

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