Gareth Southgate has experienced contrasting emotions against Germany
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"Redemption for Gareth,” tweeted Tony Adams, who was Gareth Southgate’s centre-back partner and England’s captain at Euro ’96. For the 27 million viewers who were also watching England’s historic 2-0 victory against Germany, there would be an accompanying life lesson.
Kelly Somers, the BBC interviewer, knew the wider personal significance of playing Germany at Wembley and so, at this moment of triumph, took the England manager back 25 years to the most traumatic experience of his professional life.
“Given everything that has happened, given 1996, how much does this mean to you?” she asked.
Southgate has never hidden from the most heartbreaking penalty miss in English football history, but the enduring emotion was still laid bare.
“I was looking at Dave Seaman up there,” Southgate said, referencing how the cameras had just panned to his former England team-mate.
“I can’t … for the team that played with me, I can’t change that, so it’s always going to hurt. What’s lovely is that we have given people another day to remember.”
England 2 Germany 0 – Euro 2020
Alan Shearer instantly said that he “forgave him a long time ago”, and he was followed on Wednesday by a long line of former team-mates. Les Ferdinand told Telegraph Sport that the England players had only ever felt support for Southgate, but that he was sure beating Germany had “put some nightmares he’s had ever since to bed”.
Jamie Redknapp echoed Adams’s “redemption” sentiment. Seaman said he wanted to remind Southgate of the job they had all done at Euro ’96 in making the “England fans love the England team”.
For Darren Anderton, who would have taken England’s next penalty, the memory of the players all departing the squad’s Burnham Beeches base came flooding back.
“I just remember all the cameras in Gareth’s face and following him and his wife,” Anderton said. “You felt for him, the same as Becks [David Beckham] in 1998. There’s nothing you can say. You know it is part of the game we play and that it could happen to any of us. You can hit a good penalty and the goalie can make a good save. You can hit a bad penalty and it can bobble in.
“You have got to move on and Gareth did that in such a humble way. He never complained. He’s very level-headed – you don’t see him get too flustered either way – but I’m sure emotionally for him it was huge to beat Germany.
“It shows the person he is. He felt he had let people down but, of course, he let no one down. He’s strong. That’s the reality. It could have buried most people. It didn’t. He dealt with Euro ’96. People might think he is a soft touch because he is such a nice guy, but he isn’t. He’s very single-minded and strong-willed. I’m thrilled for him.”
Gareth Southgate looks to the heavens after the final whistle against Germany
Southgate wrote a book entitled Anything is Possible last year and made a point in the introduction of describing how he felt before, during and after the penalty miss.
“Rather than focus on the things I could control, like my breathing or what side of the net I should aim for, I started worrying about what might go wrong,” he wrote. “As a result, when the referee blew the whistle for me to take that penalty, my head was full of negativity. I didn’t feel in control of my legs, and I definitely wasn’t thinking clearly. It was all over. We had lost, and I felt completely responsible. I carried a feeling that would stay with me for years. As I saw things, I had let everyone down: myself, my team and my country.”
Southgate could not face anyone but his family the next day and, without access to the psychological support that is now standard in elite sport, was anxious and nervous over how people would react. “It was a bleak time,” he said.
And yet he now believes that the experience has given him added resilience. A better perspective on life and, with the knowledge of getting through the worst footballing experience, a more effective manager.
The support of team-mates and, specifically, fans was crucial. Numerous strangers wrote to him, including even people living with terminal illness, to express support and actually relay gratitude for his part in a memorable summer.
Anderton, too, said that the overwhelming emotion whenever England fans think of Euro ’96 is positive. “Of course we were devastated not to win but, when people talk about that tournament, they have a huge smile on their faces,” he said. “It brings back goosebumps. This team now have the opportunity to do it and Gareth is the main reason for that. He has been smart and brave. He has all the attributes for the hardest job in football. We look like winners at the moment.”