How Gareth Southgate grew up in a world of alpha males and egos and a racist football culture… long before he became England's man who thinks and doesn't shout, writes IAN HERBERT

On one of the quieter nights at these Euros, I picked up the book of short stories which had been up and down the German railway network with me, by then unread.

The collection, ‘We Aim to Live’ is by John Budden, one of Gareth Southgate’s friends from a time, in the late 1980s, when they were 15-year-old apprentices together at Crystal Palace. Budden didn’t make it much further along the professional football road, retraining as a teacher, a field in which he has since changed many lives.

His stories are superb – vivid, utterly compelling – and none more so than ‘The Boot Room’, an apprentice’s perspective on the oppressive, racist football culture that teenagers like he and Southgate encountered at Palace back then.

The central figure is Trevor Cain, the foul and dictatorial club captain. He forces the apprentices to shout, ‘You f***ing spastics’, at a group of deaf children who visit the club. ‘He said it didn’t matter because they couldn’t hear us anyway.’ He locks the apprentices in a dressing room, where he forces them to strip off and fight each other. ‘I want proper men. Do you understand? Because this is English football. It’s not for ponces doing tricks. It’s for men.’

The old alpha male English dressing room culture, drowning in ego, has been painfully hard to break. John Terry actually thought he was being impressive when recently revealing on a podcast that he had refused to fly on a pre-season trip until Chelsea manager Andre Villas-Boas reversed his decision to seat senior players in economy class and young players in first. ‘I promise you the plane wasn’t going.’

Gareth Southgate (above) has walked England out of its old alpha male dressing room culture

The Three Lions triumphed on penalties against Switzerland to reach the Euro 2024 semi-finals

Southgate took over from Sam Allardyce (above) during a chaotic time for England and the FA

Whatever the outcome on Wednesday night, Southgate has walked England out of the old version of itself. Had Sam Allardyce not bragged to an undercover reporter that he could break FA rules, whilst on a £3million salary as their England manager, we would have possibly not have witnessed the progressive form of management and patriotism his successor has brought. A successor who has had the intelligence to see the unreconstructed elements of game for what they were, make things different and engender a far broader national affection for the England team.

It was seven years ago in Dortmund, scene of this semi-final, that Southgate first demonstrated the intellectual self-confidence which told you his managerial reign might be different. English football’s lunatic fringe had been at it again, occupying various pubs in the city to sing about ‘the RAF from England’ shooting German bombers down, and he chose that moment, the eve of his first match as permanent manager, to challenge some established thinking.

Mail Sport’s Ian Herbert

‘We’re an island,’ Southgate said. ‘We’ve got to get off the island and learn from elsewhere, look in the mirror and change the way we do things tactically, with our physical preparation, our style of play and our mentality.’ Germany might actually teach us something, he observed. The creed of Trevor Cain it was not.

Though we didn’t know it then, his voice would become one of sanity, humility and intelligence through some unimaginably difficult years. Before he arrived, no English football manager would ever have answered a question about the team helping salve national divisions caused by Brexit. Southgate did so with confidence on the eve of the 2018 World Cup semi-final against Croatia.

‘Yes,’ he told us, in a packed little press conference room at Moscow’s Luzhniki Stadium. ‘The chance to connect everybody through football and to make a difference to how people feel… is even more powerful than what we are doing with our results.’ I recall him also saying, that afternoon, that ‘the FA’ had hired him, then immediately qualifying his words to say ‘the English FA’. He was showing that England no longer viewed themselves as football’s reference point.

The arguments about Southgate’s tactical conservatism have been more than adequately dealt with here. No need to press home points about his results and track record – three semi-finals in four tournaments for a nation which had won a mere six knockout games between 1968 to 2016.

Despite producing star-studded teams over the years, England have failed to lift trophies

Southgate has revitalised England with culture, identity and a sense of self-confidence

England won a mere six knockout games between 1968 and 2016. Pictured: Gary Neville (left) and David Beckham (right) react after Argentina beat the Three Lions 3-2 on penalties in 1998

‘But England have all the greatest players,’ the detractors cry, blinded to every other nation’s talents by the Premier League propaganda machine. Watching back some of the fly-on-the-wall documentary ‘An Impossible Job’ this week, I was reminded of what a galaxy of world-class talents England also had back then: Shearer, Adams, Wright, Seaman, Ince.

In the pre-match press conference before they played the Netherlands in 1993, Graham Taylor argued with journalists as Ince watched on, looking embarrassed. In the dugout the following day, the management team bawled at the players. The team lost.

Southgate thinks and doesn’t shout. As someone far wiser than me put it this week, ‘He talks in words. He doesn’t ROAR. He doesn’t surge or unleash.’ The flip-side to that caution and reflection is perhaps the lack of in-game tactical dynamism. And because of an inverse snobbery, and because of the relentless wish for change, and because hate fuels the social media realm, there are now tidal waves of opprobrium for England’s most successful manager since Ramsey. 

A manager who has brought a culture, identity and self-confidence which has allowed the team, playing yet another tournament semi-final, to succeed for a longer continuous period than ever before.

Southgate will probably write his own book when this England race is run. It will go with the one he once co-wrote with another player from those Palace days, apprentice goalkeeper Andy Woodman. They called it Woody and Nord, because Southgate had been known as ‘Nord’ ever since Wally Downes, one of the Palace coaches, decided that he talked like TV host Denis Norden.

England have now reached their third semi-final under Southgate, who was appointed in 2016

Despite his excellent record, several fans have criticised Southgate’s conservative style of play

It is a book about friendship, as well as football and Southgate reflected in passing on his old friend Budden’s move into a teaching, a profession he considered far more honourable than his own. It showed that he saw the bigger picture. It said a lot that did not consider himself interesting enough to warrant a book of his own.

We Aim to Live, by John Budden. Troubador Publishing £8.99

Emma’s withdrawal was a terrible look

Yes, Emma Raducanu’s priority had to be reaching Wimbledon’s quarter-finals. Yes, at the age 21, she is contending with the searing kind of spotlight which none of us would want for our children. 

But agreeing to participate in the tournament’s farewell to Andy Murray, only to withdraw from their mixed doubles arrangement? Careless. The most terrible look, bereft of any thought that, star material though she might be, there is a world out there beyond her own.

There were ‘no regrets,’ she said. ‘I had to put myself first. I have to prioritise myself, my singles and my body.’ The lack of awareness was written through every word of her nauseating self-justification.

Emma Raducanu (above) insists she has ‘no regrets’ after withdrawing from the mixed doubles – and ultimately denying Andy Murray a final opportunity to wave farewell to Wimbledon

A tearful Murray bows out at SW19 after his men’s doubles defeat with brother Jamie last week

Embarrassing chants must stop

I took a tram from Stuttgart’s stadium to the city centre, an hour or so after Spain had beaten the hosts there on Friday.

The Spanish fans were jubilant, and the Germans were certainly able to live with that. They didn’t take celebrations as a taunt. It was a warm, civilised, raucous late night in the city as winners and vanquished co-existed.

The problems were occurring five hours north in Dusseldorf, where a group of England fans ridiculed Germans about the defeat, singing: ‘Have you ever seen the Germans win a war?’ Clashes ensued. No-one appeared willing to let the tanked-up English group know what an abject embarrassment they were.