From a football player who made a joke to a national hero: the career of the England national team coach is like a Cinderella story | Sport

From a football player who made a joke to a

It all starts with a crushing personal failure. England plays against Germany in the semi-finals of the European Championship at home in 1996.

Will come Gareth Southgate turn to shoot. He fails in his penalty kick and England’s trip to the final is cut short. Southgate becomes an anti-hero, the face of the national team’s failure.

At the time, a 13-year-old boy follows the match, James Grahamwhich tries to understand why defeat feels so overwhelming.

Almost thirty years later, he writes the play Dear England.

It tells the story of Gareth Southgate’s journey from a football outcast to a man who brings joy and hope back to the national king sport, football.

Dear England is like a Shakespearean king’s play, in which a former prince who has lost his crown, condemned to shame, teaches future players to face their fears and succeed where they themselves failed.

The play is growing in popularity, and the show will be delivered to cinemas all over the world, including Finland, next Monday, February 19.

Look behind this link Southgate’s fateful moment.

Less threat, more empathy

Dear England begins with the moment when Gareth Southgate, to everyone’s surprise, is chosen as the coach of the national team in 2016.

At that time, few believed that the man who had given a face to the problems of English football would be able to develop the team.

Sometimes the truth is more wonderful than a lie. Southgate became the coach of a new era. His guiding principle was: less threat and traditional masculinity, more empathy, facing fears and talking about them.

– The revolution started when Southgate recognized and named the problems that previous coaches had not dared to deal with, playwright James Graham says in a video interview to .

Look behind this link Dear England trailer.

Why does the England jersey weigh?

While working on the play, Graham had discussions with Gareth Southgate and his team. The author spent time at the English national team’s training ground in St George’s Park, which is located more than a couple of hundred kilometers northwest of London.

Graham says that Southgate was surprised that there had never been a discussion with the players about identity or what it means to pull on the national team shirt. However, huge expectations are placed on the players in England.

At the moment of failure, expectations erupt as fan anger, hooliganism, violence and racism. This is what Southgate wanted to change.

Southgate set out to build the team into a welded unit. He didn’t just talk about tactics or train the players, but asked what it means to them to be English.

– Gareth sat these rich millionaire players down and organized workshops for them. The players were surprised at first, but Southgate tried to understand why the England shirt feels heavier than any other country’s shirt.

What happens with a comma?

The new coach also tackled another unresolved problem: penalty kicks. Success in them was miserable.

The team didn’t used to talk about what happens when a player walks alone to the field, when millions of eyes are focused on one person, when the mind is filled with the ballast of history, expectations and pressures.

– They were like there were no penalties. They were bad at them, so they were avoided. This is a wider problem in England: not wanting to look at or name the thing that scares the most, says Graham.

Southgate hired a team psychologist, Pippa Grangewhich started in 2018 working with the players on their fears and talk about how they could be approached.

Graham says that vulnerability, fears or doubts are not usually discussed in dressing rooms. They are considered signs of weakness. However, Southgate wanted to encourage his players to recognize their fears.

– People rolled their eyes and said that it was completely pointless and illogical. But the results started to appear on the field.

Under Southgate’s captaincy, England have played better than ever, cheerfully – and fearlessly.

The game creates the nation

The play Dear England has been named From Southgate’s letterwhich he wrote to the people of England before the 2021 European Championship.

In the letter, Southgate talks about how each game creates a nation’s identity and collective consciousness, how the memories of the World Cup last a lifetime.

He defends his players against racism and slander culture, as well as reminds them of equality and tolerance.

– He talks about it emotionally and intelligently, in a way that no coach has ever addressed the team’s supporters, Graham says.

But Gareth Southgate is not a traditional manager. It is often assumed in sports that the leader has certain extroverted, masculine traits: that he is strong, tough and determined.

– Gareth knew early on that this is not his nature. He has said that he is introverted and shy.

Fiennes was nervous about the role

Southgate seems like a very improbable headliner of the king’s play.

He plays in Dear England Joseph Fienneswho was nervous about the role.

– Generally, the Shakespearean hero is a loud military figure, sword in hand, shouting to the back row. But Gareth is not like that. Gareth’s greatness is in his gentleness. How to make something great out of gentleness and decency, Graham asks.

For Graham, football in itself is like a Shakespearean struggle. The players go to battle, try to capture the Holy Grail, which makes the people feel good about themselves.

– Shakespeare often has one character, the protagonist, against whom Kingdoms rise or fall. And that’s exactly the kind of character Gareth is to me.

Will the king get his crown?

Dear England ends at the 2022 World Cup in Qatar, but in real life Southgate’s journey continues.

To Graham’s surprise, Southgate is taking part in this summer’s EC competitions as a coach. So the last sample has not been shown yet. The games will be held in Germany, the home field of England’s worst football opponent.

Will Gareth Southgate manage to claim his crown and bring home the trophy?

– The message of the play is that you have to learn to lose before you can learn to win. And whatever happened, I think at least it was learned.

James Graham: Dear England will be shown in cinemas in Helsinki, Tampere and Turku on February 19. at 5:30 p.m.