Gareth Southgate made England football fans believe again in 2018, nobody saw that coming

The challenge now is to keep it going and win Euro 2020.


No-one saw the remarkable change coming – not even Gareth Southgate.

To play 17 international matches in one calendar year proves England must have had one hell of a year as the only other time this happened, we won the World Cup.

Not since 1966 has there been such a feel-good factor surrounding the senior side, even compared to 1990 and 1996 when England delivered semi-final finishes.

We started the international year talking about our fans embarrassing themselves in Amsterdam.

Yet eight glorious months later, we were writing about the country’s outstanding support and the squad’s stunning Wembley send off from the stands after the team finally beat Croatia.

It was that type of year.

Southgate’s team did not merely get to the last four of Russia 2018 but subsequently have matured, improved and also evolved with new players arriving.


England seemed in okay shape ahead of the friendly in Holland on March 23 – Jesse Lingard got his first goal for the team in a 1-0 win. But frustratingly, over 100 England fans were arrested in the Dutch capital and it seemed as though nothing has changed.

Yet most of our fans behave impeccably. And those who went to Russia will feel it was the best money they have ever spent.

And a feature of the World Cup were the unbelievable scenes back in Blighty where fans – alongside the 25million or so watching at home – flocked to pubs and parks and celebrated wildly.

In terms of covering the national team, manager Southgate and his backroom team helped break down some barriers with the media and got rid of that famous paranoia which hindered previous squads, including the Golden Generation.

For the first time, you get the feeling England’s players love meeting up on international breaks and enjoy playing for their country.



England finally won a knockout game on penalties last summer, comfortably progressed in a quarter-final and were 23 minutes from reaching the World Cup final.

Harry Kane won the Golden Boot and it is downright weird some fans have sneered at this achievement because three of the six goals were penalties.

It is not as though this country has a great pedigree in taking spot-kicks.

Crucially, it is the team’s improvement since the World Cup which has been so encouraging and impressive.

Some players have lost their places, others have come in and taken their chance. We also have the new generation such as Jadon Sancho to keep the others on their toes.

The finest first half performance I have ever witnessed from an England team came in Seville in the Nations League with Southgate’s side embarrassing the Spanish.


And then came the deciding match against Croatia in this Nations league.

With 13 minutes to go, it looked as though England’s year was to end on a downer before Lingard and Kane delivered the killer touch.

The scenes at the end of the game, as Southgate and his players have since admitted, are something they will not forget.

Over the course of 2018, Southgate turned the atmosphere and mentality of the England camp into one you see at a top club side.

Hopefully throughout 2019, the Three Lions will keep playing well while enjoying themselves and making the country proud.



CHARLIE WYETT'S AWARDS

Player of the Year – Harry Kane

Led by example. Six goals at the World Cup and the winner at home to Croatia in the Nations League.

Moment of the Year

Jordan Pickford delivering the brilliant save from Colombia’s Carlos Bacca. England had finally won on penalties.

Match of the Year

It wasn’t the most important but England’s display in the 3-2 Uefa Nations League win over Spain was brilliant.

Surprise of the Year

That England fans once again enjoy watching – and respect – the national team.

Goal of the Year

Kieran Trippier’s stunning free-kick against Croatia in the semi-finals. He got the whole country dreaming.

Clothing Item of the Year

A waistcoat. No-one in the M&S publicity department could have expected Gareth Southgate’s waistcoat to become such a World Cup talking point.

Injury of the Year

Gareth Southgate’s dislocated shoulder while running in Repino during the World Cup.

Best Song

Gareth Southgate would not have expected to feature in a song until England’s fans changed the words of Atomic Kitten’s Whole Again.

Surprise Choice

Kyle Walker would never have expected to enjoy a World Cup campaign – as a central defender. He adapted well.

Lost in Translation

Croatia’s players misunderstanding the meaning of the Three Lions song – thinking supporters expected England would win the World Cup.

Breakthrough

Lots of young players coming in but 18-year-old Jadon Sancho has got us all talking.

Funniest moment

Looking at the faces of the Spanish players – including Sergio Ramos – as their team was completely torn apart by England.

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