Under new management
But then along came Gareth Southgate: move over Mr Darcy, 2018 has just brought us a new Reigning Gentleman.
If I’m honest, I actually felt quite anxious when the World Cup Finals got underway. Not for my safety, but because I know that football tournaments can be a scary and dangerous time for women. When crowds of supporters descend anywhere for a major tournament, the levels of sex-trafficking and forced prostitution soar. And when a national or favoured team loses, domestic violence rises too.
Although I love a good game, to me, football doesn’t always show men and masculinity at its best. At its worst, it can show aggression, drunkenness, tribalism, racism and violence. In short, the beautiful game also brings to the surface a lot of toxic, weak, ugly, fallen masculinity.
However, my anxieties have recently morphed into feelings of hope and positivity. It began shortly after England finally defeated Colombia. In the post match interview, manager Gareth Southgate talked at length about his pride at the England side keeping their cool in the face of so much provocation. I watched him celebrate with a touching gentleness and modestly – you could see his pride in the squad, but there was also gratitude and humility.
Blessings for curses
Then, the following day, I saw a photo of Mr Southgate that rocked my world. There he was, standing next to Colombian player Mateus Uribe – who had, moments earlier, sealed his team’s fate by missing a penalty. And the England manager – who had been in Uribe’s shoes 22 years earlier, missing a deciding penalty against Germany – stood with his arm draped around the shoulders of the weeping player.
Instead of showy displays of self-congratulation, England’s manager chose to dispense words of encouragement to the England squad… and consolation to a distraught opponent. Instead of pride, he chose humility. Instead of focusing on himself, he chose to focus on others. And he chose to offer a ‘blessing’ to the member of a side who had earlier been raining down the footie equivalent of curses on his team.