Why Football HAS come home

"Why did I start to care about our national team again?"

In 2006, my brother, two mates and I got in a pokey little car and headed off to the World Cup in Germany. We had no air con so we bought some crappy fans and thought they might save us. That has absolutely nothing to do with this story but it still makes me smile when I think back to it. They didn’t.

My first memory of Worldcup football was Italia 90. Lineker, Platt, Pearce, Gascoigne and then on the other side there was Baggio, Matthaus, Maradona, Schillaci and Klinsmann. What an era. I can still hear myself shouting Sccccchillaci as I put a beautifully weighted ball past my brother in a homemade goal in the garden. Good times.

Despite that trip to the World Cup (more for the experience than the football), I’ve fallen out of love with International football. No. Wait. I’ve fallen out of love with the England Team. So much so that I don’t like the kit or even the flag that much. Controversial maybe, but it has bad connotations for me. For the last twenty years its been a symbol for yobs and bad attitudes and not exactly had a team thats captured my enthusiasm.

So what happened? Was it because we didn’t win anything? Was I that competitive I couldn’t handle being a second rate team? I don’t think so. I got to the point where I would rarely ever watch England play on TV, even in the big tournaments, even in the 2018 worldcup when the team reached the semi’s - I just didn’t have the excitement and enthusiasm for the game I’d once held dear.

I thought this Euro’s would be the same. First couple of games, I watched mainly due to friends and family being interested. Then I found myself developing more of an interest. A spark, somewhere deep inside me had lit and was beginning to burn more strongly.

As the team progressed I became more fond of them. I learnt their names, where they play, stats etc. All things I would have done as a boy. I even found myself saying their names as I played football with Oscar in our garden. The fact they reached the final and were so close to glory was an unbelievable feat but its not the message of this story.

So why did I start to care about our national team again? Two reasons – Southgate and the Players. I’ll come back to Southgate in a minute.

For the last 25 years through a so called ‘golden generation’ there has been a common feeling that playing for ones country comes second to club. We have suffered big egos, club cliques and a feeling of nonchalance. I simply didn’t want to be a part of that. This team of players feel more like those of yesteryear, the Stuart Pearce’s of their generation (perhaps with a little less ‘psycho’ about them). They are passionate about their country, they are young and exciting and to be frank I don’t think the clubs they play for were barely mentioned this tournament. It is all about England. When Southgate subbed Jack Grealish twice in one game, can you imagine the outcry by some of the players from years gone past. The ego’s have gone.

Now onto Southgate.

Seriously, who would want this job! Every armchair fan thinks they know better and in a world dominated by social media, they can tell you. There are a number of things I like about Gareth’s management of his team and some that I feel resonate well in the world of business. Here are just a few of the traits Mr Southgate has shown in abundance this last few months.

·      He’s got a vision and there is a journey mapped out

·      It’s a longterm one, not instant success

·      He surrounds himself with amazing people (Steve Holland, Chris Powell, Graeme Jones and Martyn Margetson)

·      He makes the players centre stage but also shields them when needed

·      He chose teams based on the opposition, not egos

·      He took responsibility for choosing the penalty takers when they didn’t succeed

·      He made difficult (and unusual) decisions at times that mattered

·      He put his arm around every player to console them in defeat

You really get the feeling this is a team and actually, more than that, a family. One of the things we’re focussing hard on at Optix is just this. If you come to work for us we want you to feel that you’re part of something bigger than just a job. Its a culture.

Southgate doesn’t operate a command and control style, seen in boardrooms from the 90’s. He’s created a team where he is just one part of it, all striving for success, sharing the journey and the wins along the way. I believe hand on heart, that despite their million pound salaries, these boys actually care for each other and would do anything for that badge. That’s what’s drawn me back in.

As Oscar tuned into his first final of his lifetime (and mine to be fair) at the young age of six I was so pleased for him. He’ll actually get to watch this young team develop and hopefully deliver. What an exciting time to be an England fan.

The trophy may not have returned, but for me, football definitely came home.