England manager Gareth Southgate has suggested that the football team’s World Cup success can help heal the country after Brexit divisions.
Speaking in Moscow on the eve of the crunch semi-final against Croatia, Southgate said that the reaction to his players’ progress in the tournament had proved the country could unite.
“Our country’s been through some difficult moments recently in terms of its unity,” he said.
His remarks that were interpreted as a clear reference to the 2016 referendum that split the nation down the middle, with 52% voting to Leave and 48% voting to Remain in the EU.
Southgate, who has won widespread plaudits for the measured way he’s conducted himself during the tournament, has been recommended for a knighthood by many fans and commentators.
On Tuesday, Donald Trump claimed the UK was in “turmoil” following the resignation of Boris Johnson and David Davis this week.
And BBC1′s EastEnders screened a plotline on Monday that depicted Danny Dyer’s character calling for Southgate to be made Brexit Secretary to replace Davis.
During his press conference, the England manager said: “We are really proud of the support that we are receiving. We’ve had the chance to make a difference. Our supporters, our country has had a long time of suffering in terms of football.
“The enthusiasm they have for these players because not only of the way they’ve played but the way they’ve conducted themselves, they’ve been brilliant ambassadors for our country, I think everyone can see that. They are proud to wear the shirt.
“Our country’s been through some difficult moments recently in terms of its unity.
“And I think sport has the power to do that. And football in particular has the power to do that. So for us we can feel the energy and we can feel the support from home and that’s a very special feeling. It’s a privilege for us.”
Twitter users have already suggested Southgate would make the perfect Brexit negotiator.
During the EastEnders episode Mick Carter, played by Danny Dyer, referred to the Davis resignation directly.
“I see he’s done the slips [walked off] an’ all, David Davis, this morning. Put Southgate in there! The only geezer who wears a waistcoat better than me!”
When HuffPost put the Southgate ministerial suggestion to No.10, the Prime Minister’s official spokesman replied: “I didn’t get my Zeitgeist tape this morning so I will have to come back to you on that one.”
But the spokesman quickly added that Davis’s replacement, Dominic Raab, was already doing a good job: “We are very happy with the Brexit Secretary we have.”
On Tuesday, the Cabinet formally wished the team good luck.
Last Friday, May tried to rally her warring ministers at her Chequers country home by invoking the spirit of the ‘Three Lions’.
“In another environment, we have a group of people who everybody said were individuals who won’t want to play together as a team – but they have come together as a team and they are doing rather well.”
Southgate’s famous Marks & Spencer waistcoat has seen sales soar and he’s become immortalised in England fans’ chants.
Dyer was praised by Labour voters for ‘speaking for the nation’ when he launched a four-letter tirade against David Cameron this month, attacking the former PM for walking away from the chaos he’d caused with the Brexit referendum.