Why Gareth Southgate and his England players are not heroes

Gareth Southgate would have been relieved to hear Martin Keown reveal that Dele Alli was alive during the England-Tunisia match
Gareth Southgate would have been relieved to hear Martin Keown reveal that Dele Alli was alive during the England-Tunisia match

As a nation we have gone football mad again over the last four weeks, having witnessed the transformation of the Three Lions from end-of-the-pier joke to well groomed living history.

While it has always been our national game, the England football team has traditionally been the source of great anxiety for millions of deluded supporters who, without much basis in fact, have long held onto the belief that our footballers would somehow manage to emulate the Boys of ‘66 and bring the ultimate sporting crown back to these shores.

Now a group of young men who, before the second week in June, were known only to followers of the beautiful game, are so famous that they are now more talked about on social media than the ‘stars’ of the Millennials’ freakshow of choice, Love Island.

They are led by Gareth Southgate, a glorious cross between a well read Moss Bros mannequin and everybody’s favourite teacher, who is odds on to win every accolade available in 2018, except for Rear of the Year – although I have not had a good look at his derriere, so am happy to be proved wrong.

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This man of Sussex has turned everything that we previously knew on its head and English men and women are now happy to wave the St George’s flag without fear of being branded a little Englander or, even worse, a chav.

What has occurred in the past week has been an earthquake of raw emotion from tens of millions of our compatriots who now cheer on the likes of Kane, Maguire, Trippier and Pickford like they were Charlton, Moore, Stiles and Banks.

Our dreams are now aligned to theirs and their names will long be remembered by a generation who will never forget what seems like the perfect summer, give or take the collective meltdown of our ruling political classes.

But even the ongoing Brexit fallout has taken second billing for millions, who have been too engrossed in the events in Russia to give two hoots about the antics of Messers Johnson and Davis.

Many online wags, using the hashtag #GarethSouthgateWould, have suggested that everybody’s favourite manager would get to grips with the farce at Westminster in a way that no political leader could.

The man can do no wrong but, do me a favour, and don’t call Our Gareth and his band of miracle workers heroes, as one national newspaper did in the wake of our shattering World Cup semi final defeat to the not so mighty Croatia.

Hero is a word that is often bandied around but one that I would suggest has well and truly lost its meaning.

For the past week or so I have argued with anybody who would listen that heroes generally don’t drive £100,000 4x4s and nearly never kick footballs for a living.

Apparently, the OED definition, ‘A person who is admired for their courage, outstanding achievements, or noble qualities’, is open to interpretation.

It isn’t. Heroes are men and women who stick their heads above the parapet without much regard for their own welfare, physical or otherwise.

Heroes are firefighters who run into burning tower blocks, serve their country on the frontline or spend days meticulously extracting frightened schoolboys from a flooded Thai cave.

Why is it important? Our children need to know the difference between extreme bravery and magnificent sporting achievement – both are admirable but are definitely not the same.

The true test for me is the hashtag test and I reckon #GarethSouthgateWould tell you that he and his players are not heroes but a bunch of marvels who have given us a renewed sense of pride.