England manager Gareth Southgate’s incredible reply to a letter from a fan after he missed a crucial penalty in Euro 96 has gone viral.
On the evening of June 26 in 1996, Southgate stepped up to the penalty spot in the semi-final match against Germany with the hopes of a nation resting on his shoulders.
As the goalkeeper saved his attempt, England’s dream of reaching the final died with Southgate the only one of 12 penalty takers to have missed.
It must have been a heartbreaking moment for Southgate and back home in Buckinghamshire, 14-year-old Tom Duggan really felt for him.
A keen football fan and player, Tom had missed a penalty himself that summer in a shootout at his local six-a-side tournament and so he felt he could ‘relate to what Southgate was going through’.
Speaking exclusively to UNILAD, Tom explained how he then decided to write a letter to Southgate telling him everything would be okay.
As he added, Tom was ‘surprised’ when he received a letter back from the man himself thanking him for his support and ‘kind words’ during ‘a difficult time’.
Tom was delighted, telling UNILAD:
Like everyone else I was hooked by the tournament and was gutted when we lost to Germany, even more so that someone had to miss a penalty.
I thought I would write him a letter to tell him that it would all be ok and that he should have been proud that he put himself forward for a penalty.
I sent it and thought nothing more of it until I got a letter a couple months later and was totally stunned. I was surprised that he had taken the time to write back which I think shows the type of guy he is.
He had always struck me as someone who was a bit different to the usual mould of a professional footballer.
Southgate replied in his now well documented gentlemanly way:
Thank you for your letter following the European Championships.
My apologies for not replying sooner, but as you can imagine, things have been quite hectic!
I just wanted to thank you for your kind words which were a great help to me during a difficult time.
Your support is greatly appreciated.
Now working in sport himself as a performance manager for Paralympic Archery, Tom met Southgate in person who once again thanked him after discussing the letter.
One of my mentors, David Faulkner, started working at the FA and during a conversation he was telling me about some of the work that he was doing with Southgate.
So I mentioned the letter and he asked me to send him a picture of it, which I did. Later that year I was at the UK Sport conference and Southgate was there with Steve Holland and David.
The next morning at breakfast David saw me and brought Southgate over to introduce us. It was a surreal experience as David explained that I was the guy he had told Southgate about.
Southgate then shook me by the hand and thanked me again for the support and we had a short little conversation about my role and Paralympic Archery.
What showed the measure of the man was that he also took the time to introduce himself to my colleague Rikki as well who I was having breakfast with.
What a guy!
Despite England being knocked out of the World Cup at the semi-final stage, the nation is currently in admiration of Southgate with calls even being made to have the manager knighted.
Wanting to show the world what a hero Southgate is, Tom shared his experience and letter on Twitter writing:
#GarethSouthgateWould write back to the the 14yr old me after Euro96, and then when I am introduced to him 21 years later at a conference, thanks me for my support again!
The internet clearly agreed with Tom that Southgate is a legend as his tweet received over 7,400 likes at time of writing (July 16).
Tom couldn’t believe the response his tweet received saying:
I was stunned. I was away in the Czech Republic with our team and we woke up one morning and my phone was going crazy.
Some of the comments have been nice, and have just reaffirmed what people have been thinking about Southgate.
What was good to see was the other stories about him writing back as well. Clearly he sets high standards for himself and the others he works with and that should be a role model for everyone.
After England lost their semi-final match against Croatia last week, Southgate gave each of member of staff who travelled to Russia a handwritten letter thanking them.
He is still clearly continuing to be a role model for all.
For Tom, Southgate and his team’s performance have also made him get excited about English football again.
And he believes he isn’t the only one, saying:
Watching England in recent times has been tedious but this World Cup has lit the spark again for me and, based on the reaction, within a lot of other people as well.
We’ve had so many disappointments in recent years it good to see England and England fans with a smile on their face.
What excites me most is how young this team is and you have someone like Southgate who could bring the team on.
He has worked throughout the FA and the game and he gets that developing and nurturing an athlete and a team takes time.
The FA need to continue to back him and the country does too. The Euros won’t be far and that could be a great next development for this group of players.
We can’t wait to see what future lies ahead for Southgate and the team.
Emily Murray is a journalist at UNILAD. She graduated from the University of Leeds with a BA in English Literature and History before studying for a Masters in Journalism at the University of Salford. Emily has previously worked for the BBC, ITV and Trinity Mirror. When Emily isn’t writing about topics including mental health and entertainment, you can find her at the cinema which is her second home.