So here’s to Gareth Southgate, an unassuming chap
We know when he’s appointed that he’s there to plug a gap.
He used to manage Middlesbrough who never won a thing
But now Big Sam has blown it in a journalistic sting.
It’s not the easiest job to take, the press are on your back
They’ll tell you where the team went wrong, they’ll list the skills you lack.
The Wembley crowd are vicious, add Twitter to the mix
Then worst of all that dread refrain – “Remember ’66?”
But Gareth’s not distracted, he does the job his way
He’s managed England’s younger teams, he knows these kids can play.
Forget big reputations, forget about the past
Create a style that suits the team, that’s skilful, fluid, fast.
No rampant solo egos, no stars who think they’re God
But a diverse mix of talent where what matters is the squad.
England with added teamwork, a sight we’ve seldom seen,
Defence, midfield, strikers - a smoothly oiled machine.
Tunisia is the first game – it’s one we’re meant to win.
We make a lot of chances but only one goes in.
They get the softest penalty; should we prepare for pain?
Just keep the faith, and at the end thank God for Harry Kane.
Next up is Panama and there's been talk about the heat
But the hottest things in this display are the England forwards’ feet.
There’s Jesse Lingard scampering, they’ve still not caught him yet,
A slick one-two with Sterling and a screamer finds the net.
They have this neat free-kick routine, from left to right and back,
Though Sterling’s shot is saved there’s Stones to head us back on track.
Manhandling means two penalties no matter what they say
Bang in the top left corner Kane blasts them both away.
He’s been a World Cup extra who never played a game
So Gareth keeps the squad involved, he treats them all the same;
They try to keep the structure, to press and move and pass
But even Belgium’s second team are still a different class.
Colombia is different, we dominate the play
But they have passionate support, they’re fighting all the way;
There’s fouls and provocations, to which we mustn’t rise,
Maybe Kane’s pen will be enough – and then they equalize.
Our genius commentators are in their rut again
“But England haven’t blah blah blah since God alone knows when.”
They’ve still not got the message that this is something new;
As Gareth tells the players “Your story’s down to you.”
They’ve done the preparation, detailed analysis;
They trust in Pickford’s strong left hand, and Dier doesn’t miss.
So yes, we’ve won on penalties, we’ve won a knockout game
We’re in uncharted territory where things won’t be the same.
A nervy start with Sweden, we pass it into touch,
That free and flowing football that we wanted – not so much.
But those dead-ball rehearsals deliver bang on cue;
Two headed goals, some tough defence, and Pickford sees us through.
Now Gareth spreads the praise around, he credits all the staff,
He knows that if you work that hard you have to have a laugh;
Magnanimous in victory, he’s not the crowing type
He shares the moment with the fans but disregards the hype.
We could have reached the final, we had them on the run
Though Trippier’s goal’s a beauty it’s still the only one.
We’re looking fast and confident, the movement is sublime
If only we could freeze it, not go beyond half-time.
We start to lose it, lose it all, composure, skill and breath;
Croatia equalize and then they nick it at the death.
They’ve won two penalty shoot-outs, they’re canny, hard as nails,
They ought to be exhausted but experience prevails.
Would the sunshine last for ever? Could the lads go all the way?
We know there’ll be a reckoning in the bitter light of day.
And Southgate's boys are gutted, they feel they’ve failed a test
But we’ll remember this World Cup for England at their best.
They’re playing to a pattern but it’s not a rigid scheme
They understand the way it works, they know there’s room to dream.
They think ahead, they play at pace, they aim to keep the ball
They celebrate, communicate, enjoy it – best of all.
He’s a winner in a waistcoat, a maestro with a plan.
Who set the tone, who picked the team? It’s Southgate. He’s the man.
He’s modest and he’s decent but we sing his praises loud
‘Cos Gareth’s given us a squad of which we can be proud.
Paul Francis email@example.com