Southgate’s socially conscious England squad sets an example for British society

Behind the success of England’s national football team lies a credible social conscience. And it’s seen squad members saluted for taking the knee against racism, making a stand for the NHS, and taking the fight for free school means to Downing Street.

Manager Gareth Southgate said as much on the eve of the tournament in an open letter to fans. He wrote:

It’s their (the players’) duty to continue to interact with the public on matters such as equality, inclusivity and racial injustice, while using the power of their voices to help put debates on the table, raise awareness and educate

England v Germany – UEFA Euro 2020 – Round of 16 – Wembley Stadium
England’s Raheem Sterling, a Black Lives Matter campaigner, celebrates scoring against Germany at Euro 2020 (Mike Egerton/PA)


Southgate has been unapologetic about the team taking a moral stance on issues affecting the communities his squad members are from, and who they represent.

On the eve of the Euros, the former Crystal Palace, Aston Villa and Middlesbrough player insisted his team would continue to take the knee as a gesture against racism at kick-offs. This was despite jeering from sections of England fans.

Read on...

After a pre-Euros warm-up match against Romania in June, Southgate said:

We’ve accepted that (jeering), as a group…

It isn’t going to stop what we are doing and what we believe. It certainly isn’t going to stop my support for our players and our staff.

That’s it, we are going to have to live with that.

England v Romania – International Friendly – Riverside Stadium
England’s Jack Grealish and Kalvin Phillips take a knee before the international friendly match against Romania last month (Lee Smith/PA)

His comments came as prime minister Boris Johnson refused to condemn those booing and jeering the gesture.

Even the day after the Romania game, the prime minister’s official spokesman said:

He (Mr Johnson) fully respects the right of those who do choose to peacefully protest to make their feelings known.

Meanwhile, home secretary Priti Patel branded the act of footballers taking the knee as “gesture politics”.

Moral fortitude

On his international debut in October 2019, Aston Villa defender Tyrone Mings felt the courage to call out racist abuse from Bulgarian supporters. The incident underlines the moral fortitude at the core of Southgate’s squad.

Bulgaria v England – UEFA Euro 2020 Qualifying – Group A – Vasil Levski National Stadium
Match referee Ivan Bebek (left) speaks to England manager Gareth Southgate and Tyrone Mings over racist chants from fans during the Euro 2020 qualifying match in Bulgaria (Nick Potts/PA)

Manchester United forward Marcus Rashford has become a household name. He successfully lobbied the government into a U-turn over its free school meals policy during the first coronavirus (Covid-19) lockdown. His lobbying helped to ensure that poor children in England would receive food over the summer.

Rashford, still only 23, continues to speak to the government about issues such as child poverty and literacy.

President Obama in conversation with Marcus Rashford
Former US president Barack Obama (left) and Marcus Rashford had a conversation on Zoom earlier in 2021 discussing the power young people can have to make change in society (Penguin Random House/PA)

Raheem Sterling, the Manchester City forward who has scored three times for England at the Euros so far, has already used his profile to support the Black Lives Matter movement. And he has plans to launch a foundation to help disadvantaged young people.

Then in the early days of the pandemic, it was Liverpool captain and England midfielder Jordan Henderson who helped mastermind a charitable fund, Players Together, which supported NHS staff and patients.

Henderson, Rashford and Sterling are among the footballers to have been awarded MBEs for their community spirited endeavours, rooted in personal experience.

England Training – St George’s Park – Tuesday July 6th
England’s Jordan Henderson has been credited with helping raise money from footballers for the NHS (Martin Rickett/PA)

Lived experience

Rashford’s own experiences in a single-parent, low-income household inspired his free school meals campaign.

Sterling credits his older sister for taking him on three buses to football training in west London every day as a child. Meanwhile his mother – widowed when his father was murdered – was working in cleaning jobs to fund her education.

Henderson has family members who work for the NHS, and who cared for his father while he was undergoing cancer treatment.

There are plenty of other personal stories within the England camp.

On Wednesday, a clip of midfielder Mason Mount handing his shirt to a young girl in the crowd went viral:

It was one of many such gestures that occur at sporting events. Yet it was praised for encapsulating the genuine link between players and fans.

Broadcaster June Sarpong described the England squad as “young men who just are examples for the next generation”.

And it is that united social conscience – to actually be positive role models, as opposed to just magnificent football players – that is what appears to set this England squad apart from others.

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  • Show Comments
    1. Rashford earns over £28,000 a day.
      Sterling earns over £42,000 a day.
      Nice to know that The Canary endorses this level of salary. Capitalism at it’s finest. No amount of words or good deeds should command this salary. The Canary bum sniffing multi, multi millionaires is hypocrisy at it’s finest.

    2. Its very easy for millionaires to support token gestures that don’t impact on their ability to feed at the top table and which actually enhance the brand-image of their corporate paymasters. The best gesture of the Euro 2020 tournament was Cristiano Roanaldo shoving bottles of Coca Cola out of sight and advising viewers to drink water – a gesture which caused the competition’s organiser UEFA to become very twitchy. When England footballers vociferously refuse to wear kits or kick footballs that were made in foreign sweat-shops; when they or their manager explain in their press-conference that they refused to ‘take the knee’ because “it’s a token gesture”; when they use their status to highlight the sale of arms that predominantly target already oppressed civilians, or when they explain their open refusal to sing a national anthem or accept so-called ‘honours’ such as the OBE on the grounds that they epitomise racial and religious division & oppression, then I’ll believe that they believe in the causes they purport to support.
      And a point of note to staff at ‘The Canary’ – when you find yourself in lockstep with the corporate media, it’s time to pause and reflect.

    3. I would like to believe in any sign of progress, and it is satisfying that bigoted fans are provoked by the taking of the knee, and must at least in some cases finding themselves in situations where they’re questioned and shamed. But this team is still a group of men, who may well be well enough acquainted that the capacity for dehumanisation is being broken down. I really don’t believe that footballers have stopped spitroasting models and the like, footballers aren’t suddenly monks, and if a sense of ethics has appeared in relation to one matter being written about it’s rendered insincere if there’s no consistence.

      I think I’m likely to be disappointed, but the country really needs for England to lose tomorrow. It’d be a terrible time for such falsely invested pride – we don’t need people being high on a win in something as daft and trivial as sport when all kinds of division are causing serious problems. Many women will be anxious about tomorrow, in households they can’t just walk away from – but as far as I know there are women in Italy also, a country with an even more ridiculous culture of machismo than here.

      It’s wishful thinking to be wanting a football team to embody the kinds of issue we care about. One or two players might mean it, but the rest of the oountry would be in a better shape if sportsmen were all that advanced and some kind of indication of where we are.

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