Monday 20 January 2020

Comment: Why all of us in Ireland should not feel ashamed to cheer on England in the World Cup

England manager Gareth Southgate (left) with England's Harry Maguire
England manager Gareth Southgate (left) with England's Harry Maguire
Kevin Palmer

Kevin Palmer

HUMBLE, classy and likeable.

They are words that have not been attached to too many England national teams over the last few decades, but that slot very neatly next to Gareth Southgate and his class of 2018.

Against all expectations, England will play in their first World Cup semi-final since the summer of 1990 that we all remember in this country for Packie Bonner's heroics, Big Jack's cheeky smile to the camera in Genoa in and an Irish success story at Italia 90.

In England, the expectations have always been so much higher and while they went closer than they have done since their solitary World Cup win in 1966 in that same Italian summer 28 years ago, the pain and humiliation of their exits from major tournaments in the years since has inflated the joy they are experiencing now.

Seventeen of the 23 players Southgate has guided to the last four of this summer's football extravaganza in Russia were not born when Gary Lineker, Paul Gascoigne and the rest carried England to their last four of the World Cup in Italy, but now they are creating their own history.

What a turnaround this is for England.

Just two years ago, many of us were all laughing at England's expense as they were dumped out of the European Championship finals by the minnows from Iceland, but the mood around this squad is so very different.

Southgate's polite and courteous tone in his each and every media appearance has set a tone for this team to thrive and his reaction to the most important result of his long career as a player and now a coach continued as he summed up yesterday's comprehensive win.

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It's hard to imagine this England story would have played out like this if the arrogant, brash and highly unlikeable Sam Allardyce was still their manager, but his fall from grace may have been the biggest blessing for a national team so devoted to promoted forlorn expectations.

The much-maligned Allardyce approach would have been a continuation of the 'arrogant England' ethos that has served them so badly in recent years and yet the man ushered in to replace him after he was caught in a pretty unpleasant newspaper sting operation that cost him his job has proved to be a game changer for England.

Appointing a manager who has not been given a Premier League job since he oversaw Middlesbrough's relegation in 2009 was hardly an appointment that set the pulses racing of England football fans, with most suggesting Southgate's coronation as England boss was evidence of the desperate decline in standards in the international game.

It turns out the Southgate approach is just what England needed, with his eagerness to play down his side's hopes from day one at this World Cup complimented by an effort to end years of animosity between the national team and their travelling media pack.

While previous England squads have been locked into fortified hotels and cut off from the outside world, Southgate and the current batch of forward thinking media officers working with the team have changed their approach to embrace a more open culture that has benefited fans, media and players.

The result has been a united team on and off the field that have helped this England effort and relieved the pressure that has so often been applied by media hounds who were almost waiting for failure in recent years.

This is a team featuring players who have fought hard to reach the top such as Harry Maguire, Kieran Trippier and Harry Kane and in the opinion of Ireland legend Kevin Moran, no one in this country should feel ashamed to be supporting their cause.

"They went into with low expectations, but now they can dare to dream and I’m delighted for them," declared Moran in his Sunday World column.

"I’m a proud Irishman, but most of my sporting career was spent in England, my children were born there and while it is not a very Irish to say, I’m cheering them on to win the World Cup.

"In the past, it has been easy to slag off England and say they are too arrogant, maybe too full of themselves and I appreciate it is tough for us Irish to say we want the English to do well.

"Yet this team are likeable and much for the credit for that should go to their hugely impressive leader, Southgate.

"I love the way he has kept the England campaign low key from day one, the way he has tried to downplay his side’s hopes out in Russia and the respect he has shown to everyone who has crossed his path. Good luck to them."

Personally, I have also felt some divided loyalties this summer.

My Irish parents raised me in England and while supporting the Three Lions bandwagon has always seemed a little unpatriotic - even when I was writing the official England matchday programmes - it is hard to dislike this band of improbable warriors who may drag themselves towards sporting immortality a week from now.

So maybe we should abandon the old game of England bashing just this once. Maybe this is the summer when cheering on England is not a crime against our Irish souls.

This is a feel-good sporting story we can all embrace, so let's not feel embarrassed for doing just that.

Online Editors

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