Gareth Southgate urges his team on during their semi-final win over Denmark at Wembley
Credit: Shaun Botterill – UEFA/UEFA via Getty Images
Gareth Southgate will invoke the "courage" of the wartime generation as he issues a rallying cry ahead of England’s first major football tournament final since 1966.
Speaking ahead of Sunday’s historic Euro 2020 final against Italy at Wembley Stadium, the England manager said the nation had "so much to be proud of" and argued that it was time to stop "looking at the negatives of our own country".
Southgate, whose grandfather served in the Royal Marines during the Second World War, said the country should not be ashamed to draw on past triumphs and admitted memories of the war had played a part in the defeat of Germany earlier in the tournament.
He also stressed that his England team represented the "values" of what it was to be English with an emphasis on tolerance and inclusion, decency and respect.
Southgate spoke as the nation prepares for its biggest football match in more than half a century after Wednesday’s semi-final win over Denmark, with a record television audience expected on Sunday evening.
Supermarkets are shutting early to allow staff to watch the game, while primary schools have given children permission to come in late on Monday morning so they can stay up until the final whistle.
Many pubs across the country are fully booked and some outdoor venues are charging hundreds of pounds to watch the match.
Tickets for the game were said to be changing hands for tens of thousands of pounds in some cases.
On Friday night, Downing Street was decked in bunting, and the Government has urged employers to be flexible about when staff are expected to arrive at work on Monday morning.
However, plans for a Bank Holiday next week are understood to have been abandoned, with a four-day holiday at the end of August instead being pencilled in should England triumph in a major tournament for the first time since 1966.
In an interview with The Telegraph, Sir Geoff Hurst, who played in that World Cup-winning side, said he believed England could win against Italy.
"I felt right at the beginning of the tournament Italy were going to be the team to beat," he said. "But we can beat them. We’ve got a very good team that things are going well for – it wouldn’t be a surprise if we beat them."
Downing Street puts on a patriotic front ahead of the game
Credit: Ben Cawthra/London News Pictures Ltd
Speaking to the media, Southgate stressed the historic nature of the match and the wider significance to the nation as it emerged from the Covid pandemic.
"I think there are historic things that we should be proud of," he said. "There are different aspects to it, but at heart I go back to the values that my parents gave me and treating people as you would want to be treated, and just respectful really.
"But also people have tried to invade us and we’ve had the courage to hold that back. You can’t hide that some of the energy in the stadium against Germany was because of that. I never mentioned that to the players, but I know that’s part of what that story was.
"We have so many things here that we should be proud of that we probably underestimate, that maybe if we were living in other countries we always see what’s good about them, but we are always looking at the negatives of our own country.
"Yet we have got so much to be proud of. For an island our size, we’ve got an incredible influence on the world and we’ve got to keep that in a positive way."
When trying to identify English values, Southgate said he thought of the image that would be painted "if you travelled abroad and you asked somebody who had met an Englishman abroad – depending on what resort you went to I suppose".
Euro 2020 final: Pick your England team to face Italy
Before the tournament, Southgate and his players were criticised in some quarters for opting to take the knee in support of Black Lives Matter, and the England manager penned an open letter to the fans.
In his interview, he revealed that his staff had been researching "what England meant and what England meant in a modern sense" to pass on values to the players.
"What hit me coming back from Russia [after the 2018 World Cup] 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, connect with the team. They felt part of it," he said.
"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.
"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 [Sterling], a Marcus [Rashford], a Kalvin Phillips, or whoever they might be because they stand for the right things off the pitch as well as on it."
Southgate also spoke of his own heartache as an England player at Euro 1996, when he missed a shoot-out penalty as Germany progressed to the final.
"I suppose if I was to be able to take something from that, if I’m talking to young people now, hopefully what they’ve seen is that those sorts of moments in your life don’t have to define you," he said.
"You have to work your way through them and develop resilience. There’s a really fine balance now, because we know young people need support and we’ve got to treat them in certain ways, but if you’re trying to achieve extraordinary things – which our players are – then you’re into an environment that is a lot more hostile and it can’t always be supportive."
Southgate said a defeat to Italy in the final would not be "enough" for his team, and that he was determined to secure England’s first major trophy for 55 years.
"It was strange the other night because once I’d finished embarrassing myself on the pitch, all I could think about wasn’t pinching myself – we’re in the final," he said. "It was ‘we’ve got to get this right now’. Because I know it won’t be enough for me and for the rest of the staff and for the players if we don’t win it now."