Now for St Gareth, Archbishop of Canterbury

Peace be with you: Gareth Southgate remained calm and gracious last night. © The Day

Should Gareth Southgate be our next spiritual leader? If the job is about healing national wounds and giving hope in hard times, many think he would be a much needed breath of fresh air.

Throughout the tournament, one man stood at the sidelines, steadfast and unwavering. He supported his team. He roared with the fans. He congratulated his players when they scored, and comforted them when they missed. His emotions were England’s emotions.

In 20 years time, when the 2020 European Championship is just a distant memory, many commentators today are saying that Gareth Southgate is the name you will remember. He is the waistcoat-wearing England manager who brought his team to the final of a major tournament for the first time since the World Cup win of 1966.

His redemption story, from zero to hero after a missed penalty cost England’s chances in Euro 1996, is etched on the nation’s brain.

Even before yesterday’s match began, fans across the country were calling for a knighthood. “Gareth Southgate is clearly a class act,” cried MP Julian Knight. “If you are giving out knighthoods, he is a very obvious choice.”

But is there a greater role for Gareth Southgate than knight, or even England manager? Should he be the top choice for the next Archbishop of Canterbury, the leading religious figure in the nation’s church?

For some, it is not such a ridiculous idea.

“He’s everything a leader should be: respectful, humble, he tells the truth,” says former England player Gary Neville.

Southgate’s letter to fans ahead of the Euros sounded more like a sermon than the words of a football manager. “It’s been an extremely difficult year,” he told fans. “It’s given us all a new understanding of the fragility of life and what really matters.”

“I’ve always had an affinity for service in the name of your country,” he continued, reminding fans of his belief that it is footballers’ duty to raise awareness of issues such as inequality.

Southgate finds strength in his wife of 24 years and two children, who inspired his “family first” strategy as England manager.

Speaking to reporters after England’s 4-0 win in the quarter-finals, Southgate paid tribute to the players who did not make the squad. “They have been a massive part of what we are doing,” he insisted.

Last week, he told of his pride in bringing happiness during the pandemic. In comparison, Archbishop of Canterbury and former oil executive Justin Welby announced a three-month sabbatical last November to enjoy a time of “spiritual renewal”.

And whereas Southgate expects humility from his players, England’s bishops were criticised last week for spending thousands of pounds on “lavish” homes, chauffeurs and gardeners.

More than 25 million people watched England win the semi-final. Less than a million attend church each week. With Gareth Southgate in charge, could these figures turn around?

Should Gareth Southgate’s next job be Archbishop of Canterbury?

Keeping the faith

Why not, ask some. Gareth Southgate has shown all the qualities we look for in a religious leader: grace, humility, kindness, strength and unending faith. Over the past month, he has inspired not only the England squad but an entire nation. He works to promote inclusion and equality, and sparks debate on ethical issues. The church would be lucky to have him.

This is an absurd suggestion, say others. Gareth Southgate has never shown any sign of wanting to give up football to train as a priest. He is already in the perfect role: football manager. It is a job suited to his sporting brilliance and steady personality. Making him the next Archbishop of Canterbury is just as ridiculous an idea as the youth coach who suggested he become a travel agent.

You Decide

  1. What does it mean to be a hero?
  2. Is football like a religion?

Activities

  1. Write a diary entry explaining how it felt to watch or hear about last night’s Euro 2020 final. Which team were you supporting? And which moment do you think you are most likely to remember in 20 years time? Share your thoughts with the rest of the class.
  2. In groups, imagine you are a news reporter interviewing Gareth Southgate this morning. Write a list of 10 questions you would ask him, then take it in turns to ask and answer questions.

Some People Say...

“Some people think football is a matter of life and death. I assure you, it’s much more serious than that.”

Bill Shankly (1913 - 1981), Scottish football player and manager

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
It is generally agreed that religious imagery and language is often used to discuss football. Players are worshipped when they win, atone for their mistakes and are redeemed when they score an equaliser. Fans make pilgrimages to their home stadiums, gather like congregations in the stands and listen eagerly to the sermons of the managers. In Argentina, the online Church of Maradona celebrates Diego Maradona as a god. It has its own 10 Commandments, including to “love football above all else”.
What do we not know?
One main area of debate surrounds whether sports, and in particular football, are the new religions in an increasingly secular society. Today, only a third of people in the UK identify as being Christian, down from two thirds in 1983. Sociologist Emile Durkheim described the social “electricity” that runs through society when groups gather for rituals as a “collective effervescence”. Some now wonder if today’s “collective effervescence” occurs at football games, not during religious festivals.

Word Watch

Waistcoat
Sales of Gareth Southgate’s signature waistcoat doubled after the World Cup in 2018. For this tournament, Southgate swapped the waistcoat for a polka dot tie.
Euro 1996
England lost out to Germany on penalties in the semi-final at Wembley. Germany went on to win the tournament.
Julian Knight
The Conservative Member of Parliament for Solihull and the chairman of the parliamentary committee covering sport.
Archbishop of Canterbury
Although the head of the Church of England is the Queen, the Archbishop is the most senior bishop and symbolic head of the worldwide Anglican communion.
Wife
Southgate married his wife Alison at St Nicholas’s Parish Church, near his hometown Crawley, in 1997.
Sabbatical
A period of paid leave. It originates from the Greek word sabatikos, meaning of the Sabbath, or the day of rest.
John the Baptist
A Jewish preacher in the 1st Century AD. He is revered by Christians as a forerunner of Jesus.

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