Henry Winter: Gareth Southgate’s love affair with England is over… it looks like the end of the game

The end of the group stage for England also felt like the end of the match for Gareth Southgate.

The fans, loyal for so long, are turning. It’s never a pleasant moment when a weakened manager suffers the wrath of his supporters, especially someone as honest as Southgate, but the love affair is long over. He is losing fans and now has to make sure he doesn’t lose any players.

Southgate's tenure as England manager comes to an end


Southgate’s tenure as England manager comes to an endCredit: Getty
Some England fans applauded Southgate after Slovenia stalemate, but many were furious


Some England fans applauded Southgate after Slovenia stalemate, but many were furiousCredit: GETTY

Whatever his faults as a coach, and I have been talking about them since extra time against Croatia in 2018, and particularly the second half against Italy at Euro 2020, Southgate deserves all the gratitude for bringing back hope in England. His contract expires in December and it would be sad if his final moments in charge of the team were accompanied by increasing abuse.

Some of the chants heard about Southgate during the draw with Slovenia here are humiliating. He’s a proud, principled man, a true patriot, and he’s going to suffer now that the fans have turned against him. A few plastic cups were thrown at him as he approached to applaud the remaining supporters after the miserable stalemate against Slovenia. Southgate was also mocked.

“It reminded me of my time playing for England,” Southgate said. But those days were much worse. His first manager, Terry Venables, suffered relentless negative coverage from some newspapers and even had his head put through a noose. The players were absolutely slaughtered for various tour shenanigans in Hong Kong before Euro 96. Southgate wisely stayed on.

He himself suffered horrific insults for missing the penalty that saw England knocked out of Euro 96. He received a splenic letter from a prisoner who accused Southgate of being responsible for his incarceration. Apparently he had responded to Southgate’s missed penalty by Germany by rushing and damaging a German car.

Glenn Hoddle took over from Venables and the critics were never far away, even when Southgate played under Kevin Keegan. England fans were rioting back then, and now they come out singing rather than swinging. He saw first-hand how pained Keegan was by the fans’ fury after the defeat to Germany at Wembley in 2000. Keegan had started Southgate in midfield, a botched move, and both manager and player were vilified .

Southgate later played under Sven-Goran Eriksson, who was targeted by the Little Englanders upon his arrival. In 2003, Southgate used his London Evening Standard column to defend himself for refusing a trip to see Nelson Mandela while England was touring South Africa. “To suggest that there was any snub by the players who were not present is simply pathetic,” Southgate wrote. He explained that he had little sleep on the flight from Heathrow and wanted to be in the best possible shape for the following day’s friendly against South Africa in Durban. Even when Southgate was asleep, there were accusatory headlines around this time.

Social media made the reaction to results and performances more toxic, but there was still a fierce tabloid war when Southgate played for England. For all his desire to face criticism, Southgate is clearly concerned and wants to protect the players. He can’t afford to lose them.

“It’s so important that they (the fans) stay with the team, whatever they feel about me,” Southgate said. “I understand. I’ve lived in England for 20 years (29). My job is to guide the team through this and get the best out of the team. I’m happy with the way they handled the last few days especially.

England have so far failed to make a run at Euro 2024 and have limped through to the last 16.


England have so far failed to make a run at Euro 2024 and have limped through to the last 16.Credit: AFP
Southgate has rallied around his players, but knows they must do much more


Southgate has rallied around his players, but knows they must do much moreCredit: Getty

Southgate being Southgate, he still went to greet the supporters, even though he knew he might receive a hostile reception from some quarters. He wanted to send a message to his players. “I recognize that when you have moments at the end of the match and I ask the players to be fearless, I’m not going to step back and thank the fans who were brilliant during the match. They might feel differently towards me. But for me, we will only succeed if we are together. This energy is crucial for the team.

This unity between the dressing room, dugout and stands was one of the characteristics of the Southgate era. A fractured relationship is so unhealthy. So why did it seem like some people had turned around? “Probably a wait,” he replied. “Over the last six or seven years we have made England even more fun. I think it was nice for the players. I think we have to be very, very careful to keep it that way. It almost sounded like a warning to the fans, or certainly the media, to be balanced and fair to the players.

He said he could “understand” the fans’ reaction. England have just two wins from eight. They have a wealth of talent that is now underperforming under his leadership. The fans’ frustration is turning to anger. “I understand that. I’m not going to go back to that. The most important thing here is that the fans stick with the team. I understand the narrative for me. It’s better for the team than it is for them, but it creates an unusual environment in which to operate. I’ve not seen any other team qualify and get a similar result.

Yet no other team arrived with such high expectations and then limped to the knockout stage. Southgate moved again to protect his players. “I’m very, very proud of the players, they kept their composure in a match where they came into a really difficult environment.”

England could well face a familiar opponent in the round of 16.


England could well face a familiar opponent in the round of 16.Credit: Getty

But what challenge? The England fans were fantastic in their support before the match. The criticism, coming from the media and former players, has all been linked to football rather than some past denunciations regarding everything from relationships to fueling.

And so, with Ronald Koeman looming on the horizon, the England manager’s job is once again under threat.

With a 66.6% chance of England facing Koeman’s Dutch side in Gelsenkirchen on Sunday, Koeman, the English bogeyman, returns to the stage. Unless we repeat Rotterdam 1993, drag David Platt away again and spill a free kick. David Marin To send Graham Taylor into orbit, Koeman couldn’t have looked like a bigger barrier for England and Southgate. It feels like the fans have turned on each other, the love story is over and even though England are progressing, the marriage is broken.

talkSPORT brings you live commentary from EVERY Euro 2024 match. Tune in via the website or app and follow our Euro 2024 live blog for all the latest news, views and reaction to the big moments .


Back to top button