Euro 2020: Is this the most socially conscious England squad yet?

Credit: PA

Behind England’s success lies a credible social conscience which has seen squad members saluted for taking the knee in a stand against racism, making a stand on donating to the NHS, and taking the fight for free school means to Downing Street.

Manager Gareth Southgate said as much on the eve of the tournament in an open letter to fans.

"It’s their (the players’) duty to continue to interact with the public on matters such as equality, inclusivity and racial injustice, while using the power of their voices to help put debates on the table, raise awareness and educate,” he wrote.

The former Crystal Palace, Aston Villa and Middlesbrough player has been unapologetic in his players taking a moral stance on issues affecting the communities his squad members are from, and who they represent.

England’s Raheem Sterling, a Black Lives Matter campaigner, celebrates scoring against Germany at Euro 2020 Credit: Mike Egerton/PA

Southgate appeared weary when, on the eve of the Euros, he insisted his team would continue to take the knee as a gesture against racism and inequality at kick-offs, despite being jeered by sections of England fans.

"We’ve accepted that (jeering), as a group," Southgate said after a pre-Euros warm-up match against Romania last month.

"It isn’t going to stop what we are doing and what we believe. It certainly isn’t going to stop my support for our players and our staff.

"That’s it, we are going to have to live with that."

England’s Jack Grealish and Kalvin Phillips take a knee before the international friendly match against Romania last month Credit: Lee Smith/PA

His comments came even as Prime Minister Boris Johnson refused to condemn those booing and jeering the gesture.

Even the day after the Romania game, the prime minister’s official spokesperson said: "He (Mr Johnson) fully respects the right of those who do choose to peacefully protest to make their feelings known."

Home Secretary Priti Patel branded the act of footballers taking the knee as "gesture politics".

England v Italy: What you need to know about the Euro 2020 final

When is the final happening?

The Euro 2020 final kicks off at 8pm on Sunday 11 July at Wembley Stadium.

Can I get a ticket?

While the capacity for the final, along with both semi-finals which have all been at Wembley, has been increased to more than 60,000, it seems there is little hope of securing a ticket if you do not already have one. As it stands, there are no tickets on sale on the Uefa website for the final. Most ticket sales took place in 2019, long before the matches in each stage of the knockout stage of the competition were known. If the situation changes, however, and more tickets do become available, fans would likely need to stump up hundreds – if not thousands – of pounds to secure a seat.

Where can I watch the game on TV or online?

The game will be broadcast on ITV, with its coverage starting from 6.30pm on Sunday. It will also be available to stream online on the ITV Hub (for viewers in the UK only).

What if I'm watching it at a pub?

Pubs in England will be allowed to stay open later on Sunday, in case the final goes to penalties, Downing Street has said.

The government has granted pubs special permission to open until 11.15pm - 15 minutes after normal closing time on Sunday.

Aston Villa defender Tyrone Mings felt the courage to call out racist abuse from Bulgarian supporters on his international debut in October 2019 further underlines the moral fortitude at the core of Southgate’s squad.

Marcus Rashford, the Manchester United forward, successfully lobbied the government into a U-turn over its free school meals policy in England during the first coronavirus lockdown, ensuring children in need would receive food over the summer.

Rashford, still only 23, continues to speak to the government about issues such as child poverty and literacy.

Barack Obama and Marcus Rashford had a conversation on Zoom discussing the power young people can have to make change in society.

Raheem Sterling, the Manchester City forward who has scored three times for England at the Euros so far, has already used his profile to support the Black Lives Matter movement, and announced plans to launch a foundation aimed at helping disadvantaged young people.

Chelsea footballer Reece James helped some of London's most vulnerable by working with The Felix Project.

The right-back spoke to ITV News at the start of the year of his "opportunity and power to help others" as he joined The Felix Project’s founder Justin Byam Shaw to deliver food to homeless shelters.

He told ITV News at the time: "I've got the opportunity and the power to help so I think helping others is not going to harm me, it's only going to benefit other people.

"There's obviously homeless people who need food and there are families who have a roof over their head but they don't have enough money to put food on the table," he added.

And in the early days of the coronavirus pandemic, it was Jordan Henderson, the Liverpool captain and England midfielder, who helped mastermind a charitable fund, Players Together, which supported NHS good causes to support staff and patients.

Henderson, Rashford and Sterling are among the footballers to have been awarded MBEs for their community spirited endeavours, rooted in personal experience.

England’s Jordan Henderson has been credited with helping raise money from footballers for the NHS Credit: Martin Rickett/PA

Rashford’s free school meals campaign was inspired by his own experiences in a single-parent, low-income household.

Sterling credits his older sister for taking him on three buses to football training in west London every day as a child while his mother – widowed when his father was murdered – was working in cleaning jobs to fund her education.

Henderson has family members who work for the NHS, who cared for his father while he was undergoing cancer treatment.

There are plenty of other personal stories within the England camp.

On Wednesday evening, a clip of Chelsea and England midfielder Mason Mount seeking out a young girl and handing her his shirt went viral.

It was one of many such gestures that goes on across sporting venues every week – yet it was praised for encapsulating the genuine link between players and fans.

The broadcaster June Sarpong, speaking while receiving an OBE on Thursday, described the England squad as “young men who just are examples for the next generation – they are stand-up guys”.

And it is that united social conscience – to actually be positive role models, as opposed to just magnificent football players – that is what appears to set this England squad apart from others.

England v Italy kicks off at 8pm on Sunday, July 11. Coverage starts on ITV from 6.30pm - it will also be available to stream live on the ITV Hub.