From the Mother Country: An Open Letter to England
We need to talk about what happened on Wednesday but first, a disclaimer.
We are one part Irish, one part Scottish. United by whisk(e)y, a shared seat at Mother and an inability to qualify for global football tournaments. The truth is, we often find ourselves saying not-very-nice-things about England. There’s the whole Brexit thing. The skinhead thing. The reading the Daily Mail thing. Oh, and the historic global empire ills involving our respective nations thing.
We shouldn’t be the country’s natural cheerleaders.
Today, we are going to break the hearts of our forefathers by breaking the habit of a lifetime.
We are going to praise England.
Let us start where Wednesday’s sports reports ended. Gareth Southgate. Stood broad shouldered, arms reaching around a stream of battered footballers. Grown men hugging. Tears being wiped away. Here was the stuff modern masculinity should be made of and it was living – at long last – among role models young men actually aspire to. Add in the holy grail, a distinctive brand asset in the form of a waistcoat-clad, middle-Englander and we have a national makeover. Gareth is brand England personified.
With a country losing its head and the British press doing what they do best, Southgate brought calm and spirit to England’s game. The contrast with leadership elsewhere in the country couldn’t be sharper: he shunned ego for unity, dogma for emotional intelligence. This is leadership that the UK has been crying out for and one that England has recently struggled to provide. Yet there it was on full display and the results – becoming one of the top four teams in the world – speak for themselves. England’s leadership rule book, hastily copied-and-pasted against a backdrop of closed-mindedness and bad-taste nationalism, has been rewritten. Its revised lessons will have a profound impact across every walk of life.
England were knocked out on Wednesday but history has not repeated itself. A team and a country of ‘don’ts’ has become a team of ‘do’s’. Southgate ignored precedent that called for banning things – be they family or mobile phones or fun – and adopted a strategy to simply let players be themselves. It was rule 101 of great marketing in action: authenticity. We saw footballers on social media forging a connection with fans like never before. Welcome to 2018.
Most importantly, over the last four weeks your national team have played their souls out but their impact will be felt far beyond the football pitch. Their sweat and toil has done more than any campaign ever could to define brand England, providing a timely shot of internal and external communications: unifying a divided country while sending out a message that young, hungry ambition will be applauded and rewarded in modern England. Your country has shown itself to be modern and tolerant and open. It’s a brand refresh long overdue.
Your heads may still hurt but your hearts should soar. It doesn’t matter that your football team lost. With the world watching, they have united a nation and redefined what England means.
That’s what we call a brand transformation. Well done Gareth.
We still don’t get the Brexit thing, mind.
Katie Mackay-Sinclair and Chris Gallery, Mother London