Golden year: the England football revolution

Scrapbook: In a packed schedule, England have played 17 matches this year, scoring 28 goals.

Can it last? England’s win over Croatia this weekend capped a great year for the national side. The match symbolised the many ways England have evolved in 2018: here are the five biggest.

1/ A winning mentality. Sunday’s performance was not perfect, but boy was it exciting. England’s first half was fluid, refined, composed — nevertheless, Croatia took the lead. England could have capitulated. Instead, they dug in: a long throw and a free kick giving them two decisive goals and a spot in the semi-final of the Nations League. After reaching a World Cup semi-final this summer, 2018 is surely England’s best year since ’66.

2/ A new talisman. Who else to score the game’s winning goal but Harry Kane? Moore, Lineker, Beckham: England has many football legends, and Kane could be the latest. However, his career has not been without struggle. Dismissed as a “chubby” youth player, he fought to make it to the top. Now he is a World Cup Golden Boot winner and one of the finest strikers in the game.

3/ The waistcoated wonder. Overseeing it all: manager Gareth Southgate. Criticised when he got the job, he has defied all expectations. Particularly remarkable is the example he sets off the pitch. “He has shown us the value of courtesy, kindness, hard work and […] redefined not just how to be a manager, but how to be a man,” writes India Knight. It is no wonder that Marks & Spencer reported a 35% surge in waistcoat sales this summer.

4/ Everyday heroes. In Sunday’s post-match press conference, Southgate took the focus beyond football: “the most pleasing thing for me is the connection with the fans,” he said. “I’ve not heard Wembley like that for years.” Unlike previous generations, Southgate’s young team is modest, relatable and fun — qualities summed up by the viral photographs of England players splashing around on inflatable unicorns.

5/ Flying the flag. As with any England match, the St George’s cross was a common sight. In the past, however, the symbol has caused unease, having been associated with racist far-right nationalism. Times have changed. During the World Cup, flags were flown proudly across the nation, and Southgate’s team was proclaimed a symbol of “healthy patriotism” and a beacon of modern English identity.

Will England’s golden run continue?

Win-win

Of course, some people argue. Remember: Southgate’s team is still extremely young. If they play to their potential, England have a great chance of winning the Euros and, who knows, maybe even the next World Cup? Above all, they have made a nation proud to be English again. This feeling will not quickly fade.

Not likely, others respond. Football is fickle. A string of bad results and Southgate will be out. Furthermore, we must not rely on sport to unify the nation. Brexit is descending into chaos, and political divisions are sharpening. Football can only do so much to paper over the cracks.

You Decide

  1. Can football really bring a nation together?
  2. What is the greatest sport?

Activities

  1. Gareth Southgate and Harry Kane are role models to many people. Discuss with a partner or small group who your role models are (they do not have to be footballers). Share your ideas with the class. What qualities do good role models have?
  2. Watch the second video in Become An Expert, then write a paragraph answering this question: “Is it a bad thing if a person is too nice?”

Some People Say...

“Out of all the unimportant things, football is the most important.”

Pope John Paul II

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
The semi-finals and final of the Nations League will take place next year in Portugal. England will face either Portugal, Switzerland, France or the Netherlands. England qualified for the semi-finals after some impressive performances, including a 3-2 win against Spain and a 0-0 away draw against Croatia.
What do we not know?
How long this success will last. England’s next major tournament (providing they qualify) will be the Euro 2020 championships, which will be held across 12 different countries. By this point, Southgate’s young team will be more experienced and expectations will doubtlessly be higher.

Word Watch

Capitulated
To give up or stop resisting the attacks of an opponent.
Nations League
A new football tournament devised to replace meaningless international friendlies and bring more excitement to international football outside of major tournaments.
’66
England won the World Cup in 1966. They have not reached the final since.
Golden Boot
Award given to the top goalscorer in the World Cup. Harry Kane won it this year with six goals, ahead of Antoine Griezmann and Romelu Lukaku.
Criticised
His critics said he was too inexperienced to succeed.
Wembley
The home ground of England’s football team since 2007. It was built on the site of the old Wembley Stadium, which had been hosting events since 1923.
Nationalism
The St George’s flag was particularly associated with the English Defence League — an Islamophobic and anti-immigration protest group.