It’s a weird world where football provides an escape from the toxic masculinity of politics. But that’s where we are, says CAROLINE CRIADO PEREZ
You wouldn’t catch Gareth Southgate embroiled in a sex pest text scandal. I highly doubt Southgate even has a Snapchat account (bless him), but if he did, he certainly wouldn’t be using it to pester women half his age for sexy pictures, or telling them about how he made another ‘slut’ dress up as a ‘pig’ for ‘daddy’. The idea of Southgate, now one of the most beloved and high-profile men in the country, ever bragging about his position as England manager and using it as a pick-up line simply does not compute. If young women were to throw themselves at Southgate (certainly not out of the realms of possibility given how we all are basically in love with him now) he would be courteous and kind to them, he would not take advantage of them, and quite likely he’d pay for a taxi to take them home.
Tory minister Andrew Griffiths is no Southgate. On Sunday, the Mirror revealed that while his wife was presumably caring for their months-old baby, the married MP was bombarding two barmaids he barely knew with messages. When he wasn’t offering them money in return for being ‘f**king filthy,’ he was being tragically boastful: ‘Daddy has been up making speeches and running the country,’ said the minister for small business who, until this week, no-one had ever heard of.
Look, there’s nothing wrong with liking a bit of dirty sex. This isn’t about the sex texts per se – let she cast the first stone and all that. It’s about the kind of man Griffiths has revealed himself to be: shallow, vain, hypocritical (Griffiths was involved in Women 2 Win, the campaign set up by Theresa May to get more female Tories into parliament). Hmm, shallow, vain, hypocritical – which peroxided blimp does that remind you of? No, not that one, the other one.
Politics today is overrun with such men. From Trump, to Boris Johnson, to Griffiths, we truly are spoilt for choice when it comes to the male ego. These narcissists wouldn’t know honour and duty if it pranced in front of them in a short skirt and nipple tassels. And, yes, honour and duty are old-fashioned words, but Southgate makes me come over all old-fashioned.
I know, I know, how the mighty have fallen. The is the same me who wrote about how much I hate football. But we live in bizarro world now, and it turns out that in bizarro world football is where we turn to escape the toxic masculinity of politics.
When I was growing up the England team seemed to be all about star players behaving badly. One scandal after another. Racism, sexism. The gaggle of WAGs, there to be alternately reviled and gawped at. You never got a sense of a team. You never got a sense that these guys really wanted it. They didn’t seem to care and so neither did I.
But this team cared. Jordan Pickford cared – I can’t remember ever wanting to hug Wayne Rooney or John Terry, but Pickford brings out a maternal side to me I never knew I had. I found myself thinking of this team as ‘nice boys’ as if I was their grandmother. I felt affection for them. And there is no doubt in my mind that this is down to Southgate and his style of leadership. Under his care, the England team has been transformed from a collection of competing egos into, well, a team. And it made the World Cup a joy to watch – even when we ultimately lost. I can’t say I’ve ever experienced that before.
Where are the Gareth Southgates in Westminster? The men who are kind, the men who put the country before their own self-advancement, the men who just get on with doing the best job they can? Where are the men who look like they might just be the dad we never had?
Imagine if, God help us, Rees-Mogg became PM. This is not a man whose leadership would be defined by team spirit. It would be the old England team all over again: the battle of the egos to see who comes out on top and every man for himself – with nary a natty waistcoat in sight (please do not start wearing waistcoats, Mogg. You can’t pull it off). This is no way to run a football team. It’s certainly no way to run a country.
Britain today is in the midst of a tale of two masculinities. In the red and white corner are lovely Gareth and his nice boys, where men hug men and honourable team play and fair-dealing is the order of the day. In the grey and white corner are the men of Westminster. Venal, pompous, self-serving, and in the process of destroying the country. I know which men I’m supporting.
Come on, Britain.