Gareth Southgate reminisces over his first World Cup memory of 1978 when England didn’t even qualify and he was left supporting SCOTLAND… but now with expectations sky high, the Three Lions boss is in Doha to learn their fate ahead of Qatar 2022
- Gareth Southgate is in Doha, Qatar, ahead of Friday’s 2022 World Cup draw
- England will soon learn their fate for the group stage in Qatar later in the year
- The 1978 World Cup is Southgate’s first memory of international football’s biggest tournament
- England failed to qualify so the Three Lions boss was left to support Scotland
Whatever happens in Qatar later this year, nothing will be as painful as Gareth Southgate’s earliest World Cup memories.
‘The 1978 tournament is the first I remember,’ recalled the England boss of a World Cup for which his country did not qualify.
‘The ticker tape; having to support Scotland, which was painful but I did. And then 1982 would be the one I remember the best because of my age and the fact you could watch every minute of every game.
England boss Gareth Southgate is busy preparing England for the 2022 World Cup this year
His first memory of World Cup football is in 1978 when he was left to support Scotland, with England failing to qualify for the tournament in Argentina (Pictured: Kenny Dalglish)
‘Not only loving watching England but tears when Brazil went out, watching the final with Italy winning. So many memories.
‘Those younger ages more so because when I got to later teens and I was playing, you were on holiday then needing to get your feet up and hoping one day you might play in one. Of course, I had that wonderful experience to do that in France (in 1998) as well. It’s very special. The World Cup is still the ultimate prize.’
With Scotland still to qualify, the shoe could well be on the other foot in November — although not everyone north of the border is likely to be as open-minded as seven-year-old Southgate was.
On Friday, England will discover who they face in the group stages, when the nation will be roaring on the team in expectation rather than hope for the first time in ages at a World Cup.
The booing of central defender Harry Maguire from sections of the Wembley crowd against the Ivory Coast on Tuesday night – condemned by Southgate and his players – has threatened that togetherness.
For players such as Maguire, Harry Kane, Jordan Henderson, John Stones, Kyle Walker and Raheem Sterling – who will all be 30-somethings by the time the 2026 tournament comes along – this World Cup could provide their best opportunity for ultimate glory.
A number of the England squad, including Raheem Sterling (middle), will be into their 30s come the 2026 World Cup and so Qatar may well represent their best opportunity at glory
Qatar’s human rights issues – including their treatment of workers – have come into the spotlight ahead of the tournament
‘Some are at an age where they are probably at their peak or close to peaking,’ said Southgate.
‘We’ve definitely got respectability and we will be a team others wouldn’t look forward to playing.
‘But that’s a double-edged sword because you’re there to be shot at and they are going to have a specific way of playing to try to stop you. What really matters is how it makes us feel about ourselves – and the evidence of the performances and the results gives the players belief and confidence, which is hugely important going into a tournament.’
When Southgate takes his seat for the draw at the Doha Exhibition and Convention Centre, he will do so knowing that adapting to the unfamiliar surroundings of a Middle Eastern World Cup could make or break England’s chances of lifting their first trophy since 1966.
Southgate is out in Qatar at the Doha Exhibition and Convention Centre for Friday’s draw
Qatari World Cup boss Nasser Al Khater this week hit out at Southgate and questioned whether he is fully informed prior to his statements on the issue of human rights in Qatar
A World Cup scheduled in the middle of a domestic campaign has its own challenges, and the focus on Qatar’s human rights record provides the team with an ethical minefield to negotiate in the lead-up to the tournament.
One potential advantage is that Qatar is the size of Yorkshire, meaning less travelling around, though Southgate said: ‘The ‘watch out’ for us is you don’t move hotel the night before the game, so how do you switch the mindset from it being just another training day to that feeling when you go on the road and think, “OK, it’s match day tomorrow, we’re into a different hotel”, so we have to consider those aspects.
‘It’s the first World Cup in a Muslim country, the first in the Middle East and the first in the middle of the season so there will be a hugely different feel.
‘But part of the World Cup is visiting places you’ve not had the chance to go to.’
Here’s hoping England can remain visitors in Qatar for as long as possible.