England squad can spark change in society and must never just stick to football, says Gareth Southgate

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England squad can spark change in society and must never just stick to football, says Gareth Southgate
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 (POOL/AFP via Getty Images)
(POOL/AFP via Getty Images)

Gareth Southgate says his England squad can play a significant role in societal change and never wants them to merely "stick to football".

In a letter penned to England supporters ahead of Euro 2020 this summer, the Three Lions manager has hailed his squad as a "special group" and urged fans to give them the confidence to stand up for the things that matter to them.

Southgate has already taken a clear stance in supporting his players when taking the knee in a stand against racism after fans booed during the gesture at two warm-up friendlies at Middlesbrough's Riverside Stadium last week.

Writing for the Players' Tribune, Southgate said: "This is a special group. Humble, proud and liberated in being their true selves.

"Our players are role models. And, beyond the confines of the pitch, we must recognise the impact they can have on society. We must give them the confidence to stand up for their teammates and the things that matter to them as people.

"I have never believed that we should just stick to football."

Within the England squad the likes of Marcus Rashford and Raheem Sterling have taken a stance against food poverty and racism respectively. However, a far larger section of the 26-man squad have been subjected to racism online - especially across a season in which fans have been shut out of stadiums.

Southgate, however, believes his players can, and will, act here too.

"The last 18 months have put added pressure on everyone, I know," he said. "Venting that might have taken place while walking out of the stadium, or in the pub has been transferred online. I get that. However, there are things I will never understand.

"Why would you tag someone in on a conversation that is abusive?

"Why would you choose to insult somebody for something as ridiculous as the colour of their skin?

"Why?

"Unfortunately for those people that engage in that kind of behaviour, I have some bad news. You’re on the losing side. It’s clear to me that we are heading for a much more tolerant and understanding society, and I know our lads will be a big part of that.

"It might not feel like it at times, but it’s true. The awareness around inequality and the discussions on race have gone to a different level in the last 12 months alone.

"I am confident that young kids of today will grow up baffled by old attitudes and ways of thinking."

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