I don’t think I’m giving too much away when I say I’m not particularly bothered by the fortunes of the England football team. When it comes to the age-old pub debate between England winning the World Cup and your club winning the FA Cup, I’m firmly in the “scruffy equaliser for Newcastle in a meaningless U23 pre-season friendly at Morecambe ahead of England winning the World Cup” camp.

Of course, I got swept along in 1990 and 1996.Who didn’t? But the older I get, the more the social and cultural dimensions of English nationalism and the less savoury elements that cohere around the national team make that impossible. If supporting a team is about the instinctive heartfelt pull of identity – and it is – then the arbitrary and increasingly boorish, insular construct of post-Brexit-England, is no match for the powerful sense of belonging inspired by the imagined community of the North(East), as idealised and selective as that might be.

And so I watched the national side’s runs in the last World Cup and European Championships with little more than mild curiosity. The same goes for the unedifying spectacle of their comically dreadful defrocking by Victor Orbán’s latter day black shirts at Molineux last week. But, when it comes to sifting through the hysterical reactions of the English press and of fans to those swings of outrageous fortune, that distance can be liberatingly beneficial.

Of course, viewed from the outside, things always look more reasonable and balanced. The pool of players that provided the team that lost to Hungary isn’t any more or less world-beating than the one that finished second in Europe last year. Southgate is no more or less of a tactical coaching genius this week than he was when he guided his team to the last four of the World Cup in Russia four years ago.

Both are decent, not great. Above average but flawed. They are now; they were last year; and they will be for the foreseeable future.

As I’ve repeatedly pointed out in my occasional writings here, football is simply far too much a game of chance to ever allow the result of an individual match to be used as a measure of anything, let alone quality. Anything else is empty noise. And if that’s true of club football, it’s even more true in the international game, which consists of a succession of one-off fixtures and knock-out tournaments.

Fifty percent of all goals in football depend on good fortune, and fifty percent of results in football are determined by chance. In fact, the three factors that influence a result are, in order: luck, home advantage, and (only then) the respective quality of the teams involved. All of which, when you think about it, goes a long way to explaining all of England’s “success” in the entire history of major tournament football.

One trophy: outrageous good fortune in the final and home advantage (1966). Twice runners-up: home advantage (1996, 2020). Twice semi-finalists: generous draws and good fortune on the pitch (1990, 2018). After all, boil it down and 1990 amounts to a left-field tactical punt that had no right to come good, a 1 in 100 last-minute extra-time winner, and two penalties against a team of rank outsiders.

This is not to say that managers are helpless, nor that Southgate is absolved of all blame. As an international manager, there is a particular premium on preparing the players mentally and on single-game and in-game tactics. The former is where Southgate has excelled until now. The latter rather less so.

But fans baying for tactical change and demanding greater adventure rather miss the point. In international football these days you can have romance and excitement or you can have champions. Very, very rarely both.

With a limited squad of players, a pragmatic well-organised defence is by far the option most likely to bring success, as Southgate has shown. His limitations lie in the absence of a plan Be specially when a game needs changing, but his record speaks for itself.

Except, of course, the hysterical criticism he receives has nothing to do with anything as tedious or inconvenient as facts, and everything to do with the mentality of a section of England fans and the media construction of Englishness and its footballing birthright.

First, there is there is the insufferable and entirely baffling sense of entitlement and superiority. As if the facts of the last 70 years of international football somehow lie. Or as if there is a whole crop of English players excelling in creative and attacking roles for the leading European club sides who we’ve somehow overlooked. And as if Jordan Henderson isn’t the only central midfielder playing even occasionally for a top six Premier League team.

Of course, it’s hardly a stretch to connect that irrational sense of entitlement to empty myths of colonialism and war. That Southgate defies the accompanying,laughably outmoded myths of singular, charismatic, masculine, Churchillian leadership hardly helps his cause. When in doubt, find Piers Morgan’s view and head as far away as possible.

Which brings us inevitably to the second, altogether darker dimension to the depth of antagonism directed at Southgate. If there was something that brought us close to falling for the national side last summer then it was the immense likeability of a joyously diverse set of players and the calm (emotional) intelligence with which they were led. And all that in the face of overt racism within stadiums and amoral dog-whistle politics stage right.

Make no mistake, the anti-Southgate lobby is fed by the worst kind of conservative social forces.

Maybe it’s time I embraced England and Gareth’s boys after all. At least until the North becomes free.

Matthew Philpotts @mjp19731