One day Gareth Southgate will hopefully get to sit down and talk only about football. But Wednesday — in keeping with most of his recent public appearances — was not that day.
This time, as it was just over a year ago when England played in Bulgaria, the subject was racism and diversity and inclusion. Painfully, on this occasion, it was about problems within.
Just a day after FA chairman Greg Clarke resigned following comments in front of a parliamentary committee, Southgate was left to deal with the detritus.
Greg Clarke resigned as chairman of The FA after using the term ‘coloured’ footballers
Speaking on Wednesday, England boss Gareth Southgate felt Clarke had ‘no alternative’
As usual, his message was clear. ‘As an organisation we have to make change,’ said the England manager. ‘We can’t keep standing in front of cameras talking about change and not enforcing it. We have to step up now.
‘Football has to be at the forefront. We have an opportunity to make a difference. I have sat on lots of panels over the years and heard lots of talking. But we need change and it must happen.’
Southgate’s association with the FA goes back a quarter of a century. He made his senior debut in 1995. So he understands the organisation and he was able to provide some insight on Wednesday.
Clarke accepted his comments were ‘unacceptable’ in his resignation statement on Tuesday
GARETH SOUTHGATE’S YEAR OF TURMOIL
BULGARIA RACISM, October 2019
One of international football’s most shameful nights. England win the Euro 2020 qualifier 6-0 but the game is stopped twice and almost abandoned due to racist abuse of Southgate’s players.
GOMEZ AND STERLING SCRAP, November 2019
As Sportsmail exclusively revealed, the pair brought their Liverpool and Manchester City club rivalry to the England camp and became embroiled in an altercation in the canteen. Sterling was dropped and apologised for his behaviour.
GREALISH CAR CRASH, March 2020
Charged with driving offences by police after crashing his car during Covid lockdown, having attended a friend’s house when all but essential travel was banned. It happened shortly after the Aston Villa star made a video appeal for people to stay at home.
WALKER THE COVIDIOT, May 2020
Broke lockdown protocols twice, hosting a party with two girls and meeting family. He won his first cap for 15 months in Iceland in September but was sent off after 70 minutes.
MAGUIRE HOLIDAY HELL, August 2020
The Manchester United captain was found guilty in a Greek court of aggravated assault, resisting arrest and attempted bribery. The 27-year-old denies the charges and is appealing.
FODEN AND GREENWOOD shame, September 2020
Caught inviting girls into the team hotel — 24 hours after making their England debuts in Iceland — in breach of both the Covid-19 bubble and FA regulations for international duty. The pair are sent home and left out of the next squad.
JURASSIC CLARKE, November 2020
Greg Clarke resigns as FA chairman after a disastrous parliamentary appearance in which he calls black players ‘coloured’ and says being gay is a ‘life choice’.
Among 800 staff, he explained, a good number are gay or lesbian. It is a multi-national and multi-racial workforce, too. But one of the reasons it would appear to fail is the make-up of its board.
Southgate did not explicitly say this but he talked up the credentials of former Chelsea defender Paul Elliott and was quick to agree when it was put to him it feels wrong that not one of the 10 board members is a former player.
‘I couldn’t agree more,’ he said. ‘We should have a football person. There is a frustration at the process in terms of electing people. I think we are all frustrated at the speed of change.
‘It seems obvious there is an opportunity there.’
Given his status as an employee, albeit the most important one of all, Southgate will not be part of the process for selecting Clarke’s successor. But he did say he was happy to be consulted and that is only right.
Few, if any, have a more natural feel for what the modern FA should look like than the 50-year-old.
He liked Clarke and was quick to point out the role he had played in drawing up the FA’s recently publicised Diversity Code and in handling the fall-out from last year’s sickening scenes in Sofia, where England players were racially abused. Nevertheless, he knows that Clarke had to go once he had referred to black people as ‘coloured’ in front of the DCMS Committee on Tuesday morning and had compounded that by suggesting being gay was a ‘lifestyle choice’.
‘As he said himself, the terminology he used was not acceptable,’ reflected Southgate. ‘I don’t think he had any alternative but to resign.
‘The FA is actually as diverse an organisation as I have ever been a part of and internally there was a lot of upset about what had been said. It was massive. Greg recognised that.
‘I know there is a view of what the face of the FA is. But there are 800 people here and it’s actually a far broader organisation than that.’
Within Southgate’s measured words there was a little irritation, too. Having heard criticism from former FA figures across the airwaves during the day, he reminded them they once had their own chance to implement reform and had passed it up.
Equally, he was a little scornful of some of the popular names being put forward as candidates to replace Clarke, stressing the ‘hard yards’ the job requires.
And amid all that there was even time for some chat about football. England play the Republic of Ireland at Wembley on Thursday night, remember.
News of another dreadful injury to Liverpool defender Joe Gomez was sombrely shared before Southgate was able to remind everybody that he has not yet lost the sense of humour every England manager needs at some point if he is not to go certifiably mad.
Southgate was full of praise for Paul Elliott, who was crucial in launching FA’s diversity code
Asked if he was aware of the clamour for Aston Villa’s Jack Grealish to play ahead of Chelsea’s Mason Mount on Thursday and beyond, he smiled: ‘Well, I think Mason’s only crime at the moment is not to be Jack.
‘But I know that by talking about Mason it allows all those internet memes of me talking about Mason to keep going. What would Villa fans do on social media if they didn’t have that opportunity?
‘But yes, I am aware of it. Jack is playing extremely well.’
Grealish will play on Thursday and so indeed will Mount. The Aston Villa player’s goals and assists this season have impressed the England manager. ‘He has been brilliant,’ he said.
Thursday night will be experimental but a Nations League qualifier in Belgium looms on Sunday and that feels like a big test.
Away from the field, Southgate can hope only for some quiet between now and then.
Experience will tell him not to hold his breath.