Southgate: People have connected with this England team
England are in the final of Euro 2020 and Gareth Southgate believes their run to the semi-finals of Russia 2018 was a transformative moment.
Gareth Southgate hopes his England team can continue to make the nation a more inclusive place for football fans of all backgrounds.
England face Italy in Sunday's Euro 2020 final at Wembley, their first appearance in a major international showpiece since beating West Germany 4-2 in the 1966 World Cup final.
The Three Lions' run to the final follows their semi-final appearance at the 2018 World Cup – a tournament that served to have a transformative effect in terms of the country's dwindling relationship with its national side.
Speaking to UK national newspapers, Southgate explained he was struck by first-hand accounts of people feeling they would be welcome at football stadiums in England after Russia 2018, having previously feared they would be victims of abuse.
"What hit me coming back from Russia was families coming up to me on the street, people coming up to me on the street from all backgrounds of our country and saying they felt they could go to a game now and not be abused at the stadium," he said. "[They could] connect with the team. They felt part of it.
"And that inclusivity is really important for us because I think that is what modern England is. We know it hasn't always been the case and there are historic reasons for that.
"But that level of tolerance and inclusion is what we have to be about moving forward."
Rashford helps on and off the field
Examples of such tolerance are easy to spot in Southgate's squad, from Raheem Sterling's work to promote racial equality, to Marcus Rashford's campaigning against child poverty which resulted in a change in the UK government's free school meals policy.
Jordan Henderson, the Liverpool captain, led efforts for Premier League players to support NHS workers through the #PlayersTogether initiative during the early weeks of the coronavirus pandemic.
Henderson was wearing rainbow laces when he scored his long-awaited maiden England goal in the 4-0 quarter-final win over Ukraine, showing his support for the LGBTQ+ community.
"We have a view of what being English should represent and standards we want to hit," Southgate said. "You still have to win football matches. If you don't, those messages and things we stand for don't have the same impact.
"But I think we still have to be consistent in what we think is important. If we set the right standards as a group of staff, our job is to help them be the best players they can be, but also if we can help them grow as people.
"We have exceptional examples of players setting a really good example for young kids who are watching them and will aspire to be them through this tournament.
"It's important that their parents, when they are talking to those kids can say, 'We are quite happy for you to be a Raheem, a Marcus, a Kalvin Phillips' or whoever they might be because they stand for the right things off the pitch as well as on it."
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