In Depth

Classy and exemplary: Gareth Southgate is praised for his leadership

In an open letter the England boss urges fans to work together and look out for each other during coronavirus crisis

Gareth Southgate has urged football fans to “look out for each other” during what the England head coach calls the “most extreme test that we’ve faced collectively in decades”.

The Three Lions were meant to play two international friendlies at Wembley Stadium next week but like all sport in the UK the games were called off because of the coronavirus pandemic.

With Euro 2020 also postponed Southgate says it’s time to forget about football for now and focus on what really matters: saying safe and helping others.      

In his open letter to fans Southgate said: “In the way you’ve all come together to support our team, we must now work together to combat a virus that is causing physical and emotional issues to so many. 

“We were due to play next week and to represent you all this summer, but now is clearly not the moment for us to take centre-stage. The heroes will be the men and women who continue working tirelessly in our hospitals and medical centres to look after our friends and families.

“When we play again as an England team, it will be at a time when not only our country but the rest of the world as well is on the road to recovery. Hopefully we will be closer to each other than ever, and ready for the beautiful distraction that football can bring.”

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Southgate assumes leadership

On Twitter many media commentators and fans praised the England boss for his words and leadership. 

The Daily Mirror’s John Cross called the letter “typically classy” while Jonathan Freedland, The Guardian columnist and BBC Radio 4 presenter, tweeted: “Exemplary from Gareth Southgate. Note his description of football as the ‘beautiful distraction’.”

AP sports correspondent Rob Harris said: “From Brexit divisions to now the coronavirus uncertainties for life and the economy, Gareth Southgate assuming leadership beyond the dugout recognising football’s role in being able to bring the country together and distract from turmoil.”

And the BBC’s Ian Dennis added: “Gareth Southgate is a natural leader. Perfect letter and spot on about those in the #NHS. They won’t receive the individual acclaim, but we all know their importance is beyond anything we do on the pitch.”

Some fans even called for Southgate to become prime minister...

Southgate’s open letter in full 

Dear England fans, 

As we would have been gathering our squad for March fixtures this weekend, it felt an appropriate moment to write a message to all of our supporters. 

For everyone in our country, the primary focus of the present - and the coming months - is undoubtedly to look after our families, support our communities and work together to come through what is clearly the most extreme test that we’ve faced collectively in decades. 

On behalf of all the team and staff, I would like to take this opportunity to send our sympathies to those who have lost loved ones already. Our thoughts are with you and with those who sadly will suffer similarly in the coming period. 

In the way you’ve all come together to support our team, we must now work together to combat a virus that is causing physical and emotional issues to so many. 

So, please continue to follow the guidelines for hygiene and also the sensible precautions put in place to control the spread of the virus in order to protect those most vulnerable to its impact. That responsibility lies with us all. 

We are also conscious of the economic uncertainty affecting so many businesses and, consequently, virtually every family. Coupled with the unique challenges of self-isolation, the loss of routine to normal working and social life, we face real challenges to our mental wellbeing. Our children may feel anxious with uncertainty.

It’s not normal for any of us and it’s going to challenge us all. Look out for each other. Please don’t suffer alone, and remember that our great country has come through these enormous challenges before – and, together, we will do so again. 

We were due to play next week and to represent you all this summer, but now is clearly not the moment for us to take centre-stage. The heroes will be the men and women who continue working tirelessly in our hospitals and medical centres to look after our friends and families. 

They won’t receive the individual acclaim, but we all know their importance is beyond anything we do on the pitch. 

When we play again as an England team, it will be at a time when not only our country but the rest of the world as well is on the road to recovery. Hopefully we will be closer to each other than ever, and ready for the beautiful distraction that football can bring. 

To play in a European Championship next summer will still be possible for all of our squad and so we shouldn’t spend another moment thinking about the postponement of the competition. 

I feel sure that, when that moment comes, I will never have been prouder to be the leader.

Again on behalf of us all, I wish you and your families strength and love to thrive through the challenges ahead. 

Best wishes, Gareth

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