Modelling himself on Bryan Robson, living the dream by pulling on the Three Lions shirt, missing a penalty in a semi-final shootout.
Guiding the team as manager to a shootout win in a World Cup, having an Atomic Kitten-based chant, bringing players and fans closer together.
England’s men play their 1,000th international against Montenegro on 14 November, and few have as many vivid memories of what it means to represent the side than Gareth Southgate.
Having won 57 caps as a player, Thursday night’s Euro 2020 qualifier will be Southgate’s 40th at the helm.
In a wide-ranging BBC Radio 5 Live interview sharing his memories as an England fan, player and manager, Southgate told senior football reporter Ian Dennis:
- He will never get over his miss at Euro 96.
- Playing for England was always his dream.
- Putting together a side which represents everyone is his proudest achievement.
‘I modelled myself on Robbo’
Southgate won most of his caps as a centre-back but started his career in midfield. As a youngster growing up in Crawley, it was a midfield dynamo who captured his imagination…
My first real memory of an England game would be the 1982 World Cup. There were probably some home internationals before that – there will now be a generation of people scratching their heads at what the home internationals were – but the moment that sticks in my mind is running home from school to watch England v France at that tournament.
I got there just in time to see Bryan Robson score after 27 seconds! I modelled myself on Bryan Robson as a kid; I had his boots, I wore my shirt out at the front and tucked in at the back, I played in midfield, I tried to run like him… In 1978 we had to watch Scotland but in ’82 England were there and went out without losing a game.
Later I stayed up to watch Gary Lineker’s hat-trick in Mexico in 1986. And then 1990 was a huge moment for my generation, as successful a tournament as we had experienced.
David Platt’s late goal – it’s all so vivid. The struggle against Cameroon, the drama of the semi-final and of course I ended up playing with quite a few of that team, which at the time seemed a world away.
Six years later I was there with Stuart Pearce and Paul Gascoigne at Wembley in another semi-final. That tournament captivated the nation.
‘Tens of millions want that opportunity you have’
After a £2.5m move to Aston Villa and a more permanent relocation to central defence, Southgate made his England debut at the age of 25.
To play for England was the dream for me as a kid. I’m pretty sure that’s the same for everybody. Club football is big but the chance to play for your country, in any sport, it’s the pinnacle.
You stand and sing the national anthem with the whole country behind you, the honour is huge. The number of people who would like to be doing it is in the tens of millions and you have that opportunity. That’s a proud moment for your family, the schools you went to, the Sunday League teams you played for, the coaches and teachers who worked with you. I always used to think of those people when I travelled to games.
As a young professional, a kid who has been dropped from the youth team at Crystal Palace, to play for England seems further away than ever. It looks out of reach.
I remember getting the letter at home, going to train at Burnham Beeches and putting the training kit on in front of the mirror and looking at the badge. The pride involved in that was absolutely huge.
The game against the Netherlands in Euro ’96 was one of the best England performances in the last few decades and is my favourite game as a player.
It was one of those summer evenings where the colours in your mind are so vivid, the performance was so good, Terry Venables had us playing outstanding football, which hadn’t always been the case with England teams. We almost had a European style of play. That was a special team to be part of and play in.
‘You never get over it – you can’t help but feel regret’
Southgate’s international playing career is best remembered for missing the decisive penalty in the Euro ’96 semi-final defeat by Germany. Twenty-two years later 24m people tuned in to see his side finally win a shootout, against Colombia.
I don’t think you ever get over it, that’s the reality. Even now, although we had a wonderful run last year with the team and from a personal level that buries some of it, there are players that you played with and the people you worked with in 1996 who haven’t had that opportunity.
I remember Stuart Pearce speaking on the bus and retiring from international football on the way back to the hotel after the game in 1996 – that really hit me. I was very close to Stuart and he wasn’t going to have the opportunity to do that again with England – even though he did come out of retirement twice!
There were others for whom that was the moment and you can’t help but feel that sense of regret that they are not going to have the chance to win again. I can’t ever look back on that without the individual feeling of regret and what I had to carry for the decades that followed.
‘So much drama happened in Moscow’
Southgate took England all the way to a World Cup semi-final in 2018, where they were beaten by Croatia. He has also overseen a first win in Spain in more than 30 years and is one point away from qualifying for Euro 2020.
I hope we’ve given the nation a few decent nights already. Certainly the win in Spain from a professional level was a really pleasing performance against a top side away from home. But Colombia is my favourite game in charge.
The fact that we hadn’t won a knockout game for over 10 years, and a penalty shootout for longer, and the drama of the evening and the fact that it put us into a World Cup quarter-final, I was hugely proud of everybody involved.
We showed enormous resilience against a savvy, streetwise South American country and we hadn’t always shown those qualities. That was a special night to be a part of. So much drama happened in Moscow that night – that as an individual performance was one to remember.
I knew it was a shootout I didn’t want to lose! It’s one thing to have the pride of representing your country as a player and a manager, it’s another if you miss the crucial penalty in a shootout as a player and then lose one as a manager.
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The narrative that follows you is a bit different. There was enormous pressure on that, as high as you can feel. I was confident in the team, we had prepared for it as well as we could and we felt as in control as you can be in those moments. The players deserve enormous credit.
‘Hopefully I’ve earned Atomic Kitten a few quid’
Southgate wasn’t a universally welcomed choice when he was appointed to replace Sam Allardyce in 2016. But he has won 22 of his 39 matches in charge and during last year’s World Cup had his name chanted by fans to the tune of girl band Atomic Kitten’s Whole Again.
I’m sure Atomic Kitten aren’t too happy with that. But maybe they’ve drummed up some extra royalties! It’s bizarre.
I don’t think I had a song at any of my clubs as a player because the name is so difficult phonetically to break up into a tune. It’s nice to be appreciated by the supporters.
In the end, why do we play football and why do we want to succeed? Because of the enjoyment of the fans, the public, the population. The breadth of that support as England manager is so huge and the biggest pride I get is that the people who come up to me and are connecting with the team are black, white, mixed race, Asian, Jewish, Muslim, Christian – everybody feels connected with this team and as the manager that’s probably the most important thing that we could achieve.
‘We are all following in his footsteps’
From one England number six to another – Southgate had no hesitation in picking his favourite ever player.
I never saw him play but it has to be Bobby Moore.
To have met people like Sir Bobby Charlton and Bobby Moore are moments that stay with you. And in the end we are trying to follow the path of Bobby and Sir Alf Ramsey.
I have worn that number six for England. I can’t say I came to Wembley and saw him play but everything he stands for, the type of person I hear about and the type of player from the footage I have seen – he has to be the person we look up to.