Even before a ball was kicked by England at the delayed Euro 2020 this summer, the Football Association (FA) had already achieved some considerable success. As reported last month, the excellent launch of England Football, looking at grassroots and youth football, was incredibly well received, then this week it was revealed that Debbie Hewitt was to become the first female chair of the organisation.
Ms Hewitt has been nominated to replace Greg Clarke, who resigned in November after making inappropriate and offensive remarks at a Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) select committee hearing.
Hewitt was awarded an MBE in 2011 for her services to business and the public sector (she is currently the non-executive chair of Visa Europe, The Restaurant Group plc, BGL Group and White Stuff) and was described as the ‘outstanding candidate’ by Kate Tinsley, independent non-executive FA director and chair of the selection panel, according to BBC reports.
Hewitt said: “As the events in recent months have shown, this is a significant moment in time for English football, with a clear purpose for all stakeholders to secure the long-term health of the game at all levels,” she said.
“I’ve been passionate about football from a very young age and I’m excited by the opportunity to play my part in shaping the future of something that means so much to so many.”
Ms Hewitt’s appointment came against the backdrop of the build-up to Euro 2020 – a competition which, as ever, England expects. As ever, though, preparation has not been without its distractions – the most notable of which has been some supporters’ reaction to the England team taking the knee at the start of matches, in support of Black Lives Matter.
Some supporters remain critical of the national team taking the knee, citing the fact that BLM is a political movement while the national team remain fully supportive of taking the knee and will do it at every game during the Euros.
And, with quite brilliant timing, the England manager Gareth Southgate penned a quite stunning letter to ‘England’, published in the Players’ Tribune this week. We are unable to run the article in full but below are a few of the highlights from what was a masterpiece from a man upon whom all England football supporters’ eyes will be focused for the next month.
Southgate wrote: “Dear England, It has been an extremely difficult year. Everyone in this country has been directly affected by isolation and loss. But we have also seen countless examples of heroism and sacrifice. It’s given us all a new understanding of the fragility of life and what really matters. When you think of the grand scheme of things, perhaps football doesn’t seem so important. And what I want to speak about today is much bigger than football.”
He goes on to describe in some detail his early experiences of supporting England at major competitions and asking himself why English football matters so much to so many people. Why do so many people care? He concludes that pride is a huge factor. Pride and the privilege of playing for England. But with that privilege comes a huge responsibility, and this was at the heart of his message.
“Our players are role models,” writes Southgate. “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.
“It’s their duty to continue to interact with the public on matters such as equality, inclusivity and racial injustice, while using the power of their voices to help put debates on the table, raise awareness and educate.
“Social media has been a key resource in giving our players a platform and has been a positive tool in so many ways. In fact, I feel like this generation of England players is closer to the supporters than they have been for decades. Despite the polarisation we see in society, these lads are on the same wavelength as you on many issues.
“The last 18 months have put added pressure on everyone, I know. 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?
“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.
“For many of that younger generation, your notion of Englishness is quite different from my own. I understand that, too.
“I understand that on this island, we have a desire to protect our values and traditions — as we should — but that shouldn’t come at the expense of introspection and progress.
“Of course, my players and I will be judged on winning matches. Only one team can win the Euros. We have never done it before and we are desperate to do it for the first time.
“But, the reality is that the result is just a small part of it. When England play, there’s much more at stake than that.
“It’s about how we conduct ourselves on and off the pitch, how we bring people together, how we inspire and unite, how we create memories that last beyond the 90 minutes. That last beyond the summer. That last forever.
“I think about all the young kids who will be watching this summer, filling out their first wall charts. No matter what happens, I just hope that their parents, teachers and club managers will turn to them and say, Look. That’s the way to represent your country. That’s what England is about. That is what’s possible.
“If we can do that, it will be a summer to be proud of.”
We, at Sportside, fully support Southgate in everything he says. Regardless of which nation you are supporting, this year’s Euros really does have the power to transcend the sport, and be a force for change across the sporting world. Whether teams are taking a knee or not taking a knee, the conversation is happening – and will continue throughout Euro 2020. If the result is a more tolerant football world – and in turn a more tolerant society – then the competition will have many more winners than just the 11 people celebrating on the pitch at Wembley on July 11.