England fans fall out of love with Gareth Southgate, once seen as a unifying force

DUESSELDORF, Germany (AP) — Gareth Southgate was credited with making England fans fall back in love with their national soccer team.

Now many are turning on him.

Despite England advancing unbeaten to the round of 16 at the European Championship in Germany, criticism against the coach has been fierce.

“I would have got rid of him before this tournament,” said Charlie O’Shea, a 32-year-old England fan from London, who traveled to Germany for the tournament.

The team isn’t “really gelling,” said O’Shea, wearing a retro blue England shirt.

“I think he needs to pick players that actually fit together in terms of the system … and I don’t think he’s got the personality to actually do that,” he said. “When he’s in the changing room when it’s not going well, are you going to listen to Gareth Southgate? No.”

The reactions toward Southgate, 53, are in stark contrast to previous tournaments when England fans serenaded him to a reworking of the 2001 hit “Whole Again” by British girl band Atomic Kitten, changing the words to “Southgate you’re the one.”

The vest he wore at the 2018 World Cup became one of the iconic symbols of the tournament and his team was a penalty shootout away from winning the last Euros — losing to Italy and missing out on England’s first trophy since the 1966 World Cup.

Beyond soccer, Southgate was widely seen as unifying force during a period of upheaval and uncertainty in English politics and society. Since he was hired in 2016 — just months after a divisive referendum on leaving the European Union — the U.K. has seen four prime ministers, with the possibility of a fifth following a general election on July 4, just before the Euro 2024 quarterfinals.

He weighed in on political issues — supporting players to take a knee in support of the Black Lives Matter movement and encouraging people to have COVID-19 vaccinations during the pandemic.

“I suspect and feel that Gareth Southgate’s instinct is always as a unifier. He likes to try to bring people together and is driven by a sort of positivity,” playwright and screenwriter James Graham told The Associated Press.

Graham wrote the West End play “Dear England” about how Southgate exceeded expectations to guide the national team to the semifinals of the World Cup in 2018 and the final of the last Euros.

He believes Southgate speaks to a ”gentle patriotism” rather than the “aggressive or toxic culture wars we’ve been living in, in the rest of the political environment.”

The play “Dear England” will be adapted for television and updated with the outcome of these Euros, which has seen the story take a dramatic turn with some fans losing faith.

There has been little sign of any feel-good factor in Germany, with England only winning one of its three group games — 1-0 against Serbia. The sense among England fans is the team, which was one of the pre-tournament favorites, is underachieving despite having star players like Harry Kane, Jude Bellingham and Phil Foden.

“I think he’s probably taken them far as he can. That’s probably a good way of looking at it, but what a job he’s done along the way,” said George Cottam, an England fan from Bury.

England plays Slovakia in the round of 16 on Sunday and is on the seemingly preferable side of the draw for the knockout stage where it would avoid France, Spain, Germany and Portugal until the final. Still, negativity surrounds the team after lackluster performances in the group stage.

“I understand the feeling towards me, but back the players,” Southgate said after fans threw beer cups in his direction following England’s 0-0 draw with Slovenia on Tuesday.

Before the tournament, he acknowledged that he would likely need to win the tournament to stay in the job.

“I know that you can’t keep standing in front of the public and saying ‘please do a little more’, because at some point people will lose faith in your message,” he said.

While Graham said he was disappointed to see the reaction toward Southgate at the Euros, he acknowledged the drama of the plot twist.

“If it wasn’t actually happening and I wasn’t as sad as an England fan, it is sort of a very dramatic final episode at the moment,” he said. “What a striking image him marching up to face the fans as some of them throw beer cups at him and he just stands there and he applauds them. He doesn’t back away and he wants to show respect, even to people who are disrespecting him.

“I do find it moving and I do find it quite upsetting, but it’s not over yet. And the final act of this might remind us why we should have kept our faith in the first place.”


James Robson is at https://twitter.com/jamesalanrobson


AP Euro 2024: https://apnews.com/hub/euro-2024

Copyright © 2024 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, written or redistributed.

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