How the first chapter of Southgate’s World Cup Adventure was nearly written in 1998 by an Ipswich hand

PUBLISHED: 10:15 11 July 2018

England manager Gareth Southgate leads his side into action against Croatia tonight. Photo: PA

England manager Gareth Southgate leads his side into action against Croatia tonight. Photo: PA

PA Wire/PA Images

Gareth Southgate’s World Cup story is a remarkable one – and the first chapter was very nearly written 20 years ago.

Southgate has done what only Ipswich and England legends Sir Alf Ramsey and Sir Bobby Robson have done before him, as he prepares his side for this evening’s World Cup semi-final against Croatia in Moscow.

But this is not the England manager’s first visit to the world stage. He made the squad twice as a player, in 1998 and 2002, and was on the field that fateful night in St Etienne 20 years ago when Glenn Hoddle’s side exited France 98 on penalties at the hands of Argentina.

Regardless of what happens this evening, and in Sunday’s final if you dare to dream, the story of Southgate’s latest World Cup is sure to be well documented in the weeks, months and years after the tournament ends.

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His first very nearly was, too, with current Ipswich Town media manager Steve Pearce slated to write ‘Gareth Southgate: A World Cup Adventure’ ahead of the tournament in 1998.

Steve, who was at the 1982, 1990 and 1998 World Cups as a member of the media, picks up the story: “Twenty years ago in 1998 I got involved with Statto (Angus Loughran) from (Frank) Skinner and (David) Baddiel’s Fantasy Football, which was all the rage at that time,” he said.

“We were looking at doing something with an England player from the 1998 World Cup and Gareth agreed to do the book, which I was going to write. The reason for choosing Gareth is that he had obviously missed the vital penalty at Euro 96 and was then going to be part of the England squad at the World Cup in France.

“But we had to finalise the book well before the squads were going to be announced and that’s when Gareth started getting a little wary because, even though he was pretty much nailed on to make the squad, he didn’t want to be seen as being a little overconfident if it came out he was doing the book.

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“He declined in the end and we then went back to the publishers with David Batty, but they said he wasn’t a big enough name so we didn’t do that. Then guess who missed the penalty in the shootout against Argentina? David Batty.

“It was the book which never was but it’s amazing to think that we’re here now and he’s taken England to the semi-finals.

“We’ve gone from Baddiel and Skinner and Three Lions right through to Gareth Southgate and, here we are 20 years later, right back to square one again.”

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