This Is Me: Gareth Southgate – The Athletic

Jack Pitt-BrookeMar 23, 2024

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As his preparations for Euro 2024 intensify — preparations that include trying to learn a bit of German — England manager Gareth Southgate discusses self-improvement, self-doubt and selfies…

What’s the one question I’d ask myself?

How do I get better? How can we (the England team) improve what we’re doing? How can we learn more? It’s the constant quest to try to learn everything you can about the job we’re doing, really.

I think that’s never-ending because the game is constantly changing. People are taking different tactical approaches to every phase of the game. So you’re constantly seeing new ideas, watching new tactical approaches. Every coach is probably thinking, “How do you stay current? How do you stay across how young people today learn? How do you best bring them together?”

It’s a constant quest to try to master something that you know you’ll ultimately never quite master.

What’s the question I’m always asked?

Statistically, it would be, “Can I have a selfie?” There were some old-fashioned autograph hunters today. I’m privileged that I’m in a role that’s quite high profile, so it’s nice if people want to have a picture. It’s noticeable that it’s such a bigger thing than 20 years ago when we didn’t have camera phones and nobody was even bothered by it (getting a photo with someone famous).

What’s the question I hate being asked?

(Laughs) It’s being asked for a selfie when you’re in the middle of an airport and you’re trying to keep your head down, with the cap on, and trying to avoid it. Normally, I’m trying to get through somewhere without any attention. Of course you always want to help people out if they want a picture, but you’re trying to stay incognito and not create a fuss, really.


Today we were able to do all of them because it was a smaller group of kids, but that’s not always possible, depending on where you need to be. Even at somewhere like St George’s Park (England’s training base), we can have kids’ teams in and if you’ve got to be in meetings and you’re going across the site… You’re very conscious you never want to let people down. But it’s a minor problem.

“Can I have a selfie, Mister Southgate?” (Danny Lawson/PA Images via Getty Images)

What’s the question I’d ask my parents?

I’m fortunate both my parents are alive. I’ve probably asked them pretty much everything over the years that I would have wanted to know. You’re very conscious (of), “Have you told them enough how important they’ve been for you? Have you really enforced that you wouldn’t be where you are today without their guidance, without their love?” I’ve been very fortunate to have a really stable upbringing and parents that always understood what I wanted to do, so they were supportive without being too pushy. And they don’t complain that I don’t phone them enough, even though I probably don’t. Or that I don’t get to see them enough, even though I probably don’t. So they’ve been really understanding throughout my life.

Whenever I observed them they always had time for everybody and the basics of good manners, making sure that they considered other people’s feelings all the time. They’re the human qualities they would want me to be judged on and what myself or my sister were going to do in terms of our lives, our careers, would have been less important to them. I can understand that, having kids myself. The most important thing is that when people meet them, they come away with a good impression of their values and their manners.

What’s the one thing you’d tell your 16-year-old self?

To be more confident. It is easy to say. I think in life most people doubt themselves a lot and especially as a really young player, I was rejected a few times. I was at a great club in Crystal Palace, but I think some of the guys who were at bigger clubs had a bit more belief at a younger age. I probably questioned myself more. Whereas now I know that actually everyone questions themselves in life. It’s what I’ve been saying to the kids at the event today: don’t think that you’re the only person doubting themselves — everybody does. Some just hide it in different ways. And as you get older, you get more experience, so you gain more confidence. I would say: don’t worry quite so much about the things that have gone wrong because it’s going to happen.

What will your obituary say?

It wasn’t his obituary, but I can’t get (Irish comedian) Spike Milligan out of my head — having on his gravestone, “I told you I was ill!”

What would be important…? “He was a decent bloke”, hopefully. Nothing else would be that important. Sadly I have had to go to funerals recently or talk about former England managers, Terry Venables and Bobby Robson. And the first things that came into my head were how they were as people. Then, of course, you had admiration for how they were as a coach and everything else. But the starting point was that they were good blokes, good people.

When I look in the mirror I see…

The same face that’s been looking back for 50-odd years. Part of me has never changed. And then I see the ageing, the wrinkles, the grey hairs, the scars, that have been part of forming my life. So I don’t worry about any of those things. I won’t be dyeing my hair or having surgery on my nose or anything like that. It is part of my journey. I’m comfortable with it.


But there’s still an element of the little voice of the 16-year-old, even though I know I can’t do the things that I used to be able to do. And (that 16-year-old) is still excited about football. So you still feel young. And you know you’re old. You don’t actually feel any older because that ageing process has been slow, but you do also know that things creak a bit more and you definitely look more tired. I’m not unaware of all those features I have, but I’m not bothered about it in the slightest.

A much younger Southgate with then-England manager Terry Venables (Clive Brunskill/Allsport)

The biggest unknown about my future life I want to know is…

I actually wouldn’t want to know anything because I like the fact that life is this adventure where you don’t know what’s coming. I’d hate to know, for example, when the end was coming. Or that there was bad news on the way. I don’t know, maybe you’d take even more chances or live life more to the full and I’m conscious of that, but I wouldn’t necessarily want to know what’s round the corner. I think the joy of finding out and going through those things is what keeps you alive.

People would be surprised that I…

I was thinking that if there was anything, I’d probably want to keep it private! The only thing I am doing at the moment is trying to learn German for the summer (the latest European Championship is being hosted by Germany). I think it would be right to try to be a good ambassador, a good tourist if possible. I’ve got (language app) Duolingo on my phone. I did French and Spanish at school, but with German, I was conscious when we went on the recces (reconnaissance trips) and to the draws, I actually hadn’t got a clue. I wasn’t very proud of that. So I’m trying to at least be able to have some interaction with people there. I’m enjoying it. I like that process of learning. The idea of the app is brilliant, with that repetition. I’ve not put any of this into practice yet, but I think it’s a good way of learning.

Football is…

I’ve been fortunate that it has been nearly my whole life. I’ve been blessed that the thing that I have loved from when I first kicked a ball is the thing that has been my career, as well as being my passion and my enjoyment. If you’re talking to kids about doing something with a life, today you would be saying if you can do something that you love, it won’t feel like a job, it will feel more fulfilling than that. I know not everybody has that privilege.

I’ve been fortunate to travel the world, you see kids with a ball, with various forms of goalposts or pitches. The beauty of that, for anybody around the world, is just incredible. The game still puts you back into the bare feet of the kid just kicking a ball around, making friends, and having fun. You can picture that in any village in the world. And I have been fortunate enough to see that in so many different parts of the world. That still reminds me of the first time I went up the (stadium) steps to a professional game and just saw the green pitch, the floodlights on it, the colour being really vivid. They’re the things that come back to me.

Gareth Southgate partnered with EE to host a ‘Winning at life’ workshop, where he taught secondary school students the importance of having emotional and social skills, as well as the importance of having a mentor in sports.

(Top photo: Getty Images; design: Eamonn Dalton)

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Jack Pitt-Brooke is a football journalist for The Athletic based in London. He joined in 2019 after nine years at The Independent.