A dozen years ago, Gareth Southgate was asked for his opinion on a seemingly never-ending debate in football in the Noughties: should the manager of the England football team necessarily be English?
Then in his final season as a player - a year in which he captained Middlesbrough to the Uefa Cup Final - the then boring man of football was unequivocal.
“I would like an Englishman on the basis that I think international football should be about a team and coaches from your country competing against those from another country,” he said. “With England I want an Englishman who's going to say: 'Remember Churchill.”
Fast forward to 2018; England are in a World Cup semi-final, Southgate is that Englishman, and the spirit of Winston Churchill has been summoned.
Cometh the hour, cometh the man.
Just look at the headlines over the past few days: “Gareth Southgate says England football team can heal UK”, went one. “For tips on how to lead a winning team, Theresa May should look to Gareth Southgate”, argued my colleague. And, in the Irish Times, “Gareth Southgate becomes the new Churchill as England dreams.”
In a few short weeks, the 47-year-old from Watford has been elevated from football coach to demi-God. From “sensible Gareth” to sex symbol. Pizza salesman to national treasure. In a time when our political leaders are non-existent, Southgate has become his hero: the 21st Century’s Churchill.
(Incidentally, that interview in 2006 wasn’t the first time Southgate had mentioned Britain’s wartime leader, either. Looking back on Sven Goran Eriksson's halftime team-talk in the England v Brazil World Cup match in 2002, he said: “We were expecting Winston Churchill and instead got Iain Duncan Smith.”)
So with that in mind, let’s be hysterically English about it, jinx the matter and take the comparison on for a few more paragraphs. Sir Gareth Southgate vs Sir Winston Churchill. Twin souls. Dragon energy. It's just a bit of fun. Let’s go.
“Never give in, never give in, never, never, never, never—in nothing, great or small, large or petty—never give in except to convictions of honor and good sense.”
“Our country has been through some difficult moments recently in terms of its unity, but sport can unite.”
That’s our Gareth.
“I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears and sweat.”
“If I’m needed, then brilliant. And if not, I wish them good luck.”
Southgate, striking an identical tone.
“When you’re going through hell, keep going.”
Churchill’s halftime team-talk there.
“It's been an enjoyable journey, and we want to keep it going.”
All together now…
Looking back on when we first met,
I cannot escape and I cannot forget,
Southgate you’re the one,
You still turn me on,
Football’s coming home again.
Rewind 49 years, and The Kinks were singing these lines…
Do your worst and we'll do our best
We're gonna win the way that Mr. Churchill says
Oh! oh! oh! oh! oh! oh! Well Mr. Churchill says
We gotta hold up our chins
We gotta show some courage and some discipline
We gotta black up the windows and nail up the doors
And keep right on till the end of the war.
Two heroes, no capes, and a shared love of waistcoats.
Churchill wore old-fashioned three-piece suits with polka-dot bow ties or tailored siren suits, topped off with a cigar.
Southgate, on the other hand, wears old-fashioned three-piece suits with a terrible FA ties, or sometimes tailored Nike tracksuits, then tops the look off with a Monica Vinader friendship bracelet.
It's official. Twinsies.
“All I can say is that I have taken more good from alcohol than alcohol has taken from me.”
Can you guess which one said that?
“I mostly drink water, but I enjoy a few pints at the weekend.”
Well, that was the other one.
“Let me tell you, whether we win or lose the game, my life will not change. I will go home, take the dogs for a run, disappear to Yorkshire, but it is of course a chance to be involved in something incredibly special.”
Churchill, speaking towards the end of the war. (Not really).
“When I was younger I made it a rule never to take strong drink before lunch. It is now my rule never to do so before breakfast.”
Southgate, speaking before the Sweden match. (Not really).
“I like pigs. Dogs look up to us. Cats look down on us. Pigs treat us as equals.”
Churchill, keeping it real.
“Thanks a lot boys I feel much better now [walks into door].”
GS, keeping it real in that advert.
We shall fight them on the pitches.