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TV Wrap - Southgate keeps his cool as the BBC begin to lose the run of themselves

A look at the television coverage in Ireland and England of England’s triumph against Germany.

Gareth Southgate celebrates at full-time.
Gareth Southgate celebrates at full-time.
Image: Frank Augstein

NOT TO INSTANTLY make England versus Germany all about us, but today our boundless generosity was on full display, as an England squad supplied with two players and then home advantage by Irish football set about working through its own historical issues. 

Whether you were tuning in solely to watch England lose…well, we’ll leave that up to you. 

The instant pre-game talking point was Gareth Southgate’s team selection, so cautious you wondered if it had been recommended by NPHET. 

On RTÉ, Didi Hamann counted seven England defenders.

“Yesterday, I wasn’t too confident but I am more confident having seen England’s line-up. I think it’s a negative line-up…I think we will go through.” 

It was certainly a defensive selection from Southgate’s point of view, with Jack Grealish, Phil Foden, Mason Mount, Marcus Rashford, and Jadon Sancho all on the bench. But Southgate has always been his own man, and has always stood as a counterpoint to the prevailing public mood in England. 

He was unafraid, for instance, to criticise the Brexit movement for its “racial overtones”, and has led a group of players willing to take a knee in defiance of the Home Secretary.

So to crassly misquote The Wire: world goin’ one way, Southgate another. 

Journalist and author Simon Kuper tweeted pre-game that the risk-averse selection might in some deep way be emblematic of the national character. “It all looks like attempt to recreate retreat from Dunkirk. Opposition playmaker (here: Toni Kroos) is granted the ball as much as he wants. Opposition score .Opposition score again. A scapegoat is found.” 

His fellow scribe Oliver Holt saw the innate reactivity of the selection in the opposite light, however, that Southgate was not settling for another “heroic defeat” because, well, that selection can hardly be deemed too heroic, can it? 

“Portugal ‘had a go’ against Germany. Portugal ‘went for it’. Germany played them off the park. Sometimes, it feels like we’re addicted to heroic failure.” 

Southgate consciously refused to indulge the history of this fixture and the hysteria in which it is held throughout the build-up, telling the BBC pre-game, “The players are here to create their own stories.”

Too bad, though. The Beeb had an hour to fill and, incredibly, have yet to exhaust their archive of Euro ’96 montages. It truly is the tournament the English would make up if it did not already exist. 

“Maybe Gareth is playing for penalties, for redemption”, giggled Gary Lineker.The rest of the Beeb’s build-up consisted of Lineker, Alan Shearer, and Rio Ferdinand taking turns to say how excited they were as the Wembley crowd swelled around them. 

“It’s time to stop the talking. Get out there, get it done boys” said Rio…15 minutes before kick-off. 

Southgate betrayed no outward angst about the past, though he was in the minority. “Congratulations to Jermaine”, squeaked commentator Guy Mowbray to his co-commentaor Jenas when the latter mentioned a shootout. “58 minutes is the first time the ‘P’ word has come out.”

In typically counter-Brexit style, Southgate is living in a nation in no way sick of experts, specifically in the field of Being The England Manager. 

England passed a dreary hour unchanged, as the clamour around him grew louder, calling for something more quixotic. Ferdinand wavered at half-time and briefly called for the introduction of all of the attackers, while noted pundit Erling Haaland tweeted at half-time, “Time to bring on Sancho…”

Ultimately, Former Irish U21 international Jack Grealish earned the call, and was central to the move in which England broke the deadlock. “The Summer of Sterling”, roared Mowbray, which sounds like the kind of slogan that will soon be cranked out of Downing Street for something altogether more prosaic. 

“It’s time to put some respect on Raheem Sterling’s name”, spat Jenas. 

Harry Kane then made it 2-0, to add a bit of a flourish to what was less a football victory than a slow and methodical exorcism; a group of footballers steadily walking through the seven steps together. 

Declan Rice – well-placed to comment as a keen student of Irish republican history, at least – echoed and validated his manager’s pre-game words, saying, “We created our own little bit of history.” 

“Not the most free-flowing stuff, but they are through and nobody cares”, was Damien Duff’s post-game verdict. 

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Richie Sadlier hailed Southgate’s singular stance, saying he showed “bravery” in ignoring the “chest-thumping” to open up and attack the Germans.

Their prize is a place in the quarter-finals on the side of the draw best described as frighteningly benign. 

“England should be focused only on the next game in Rome, and not be on that at all”, said Sadlier of the red carpet currently rolled at their feet and pointing towards Wembley. “Because if they do, I think they’ll end up getting stuffed.” 

A quick flick over to the Beeb, where surely they will agree with their manager that this is no time to get too excit- 

Alan Shearer: England will never, ever, ever have a better chance of winning the Euros. 

Rio Ferdinand: The lads will be looking at this draw, thinking there is nobody in there we will fear. Everyone in that draw, they will feel confident they will beat. I don’t want to jump the gun-

Gary Lineker: You are jumping the gun!

As Wembley pulsed and roared, the stadium that was meant to host the game sat crouched and still across the Irish Sea. If you’re looking for positives, perhaps it’s best this victory wasn’t in Dublin after all. 

England shooed away many of their demons in victory today; many of us watching on from Ireland might have a reckoning with some of our own fairly soon. 

Is it really coming…home? 

About the author:

Gavin Cooney

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