Euro 2020: Love Island, unicorns, Ed Sheeran and ice creams has forged England’s shining team spirit
Playing for England hasn’t always been this fun. There is more of a science than there might seem behind the meticulously curated downtime of Love Island, unicorns and Ed Sheeran.
The camaraderie between the players of Gareth Southgate’s England has been the backbone of their run to the semi-finals of Euro 2020, as crucial as Raheem Sterling’s flair, Harry Kane rediscovering his goalscoring touch and Jordan Pickford’s rock-strong defence.
It was epitomised in a tweet from Eddie Keogh, the England team photographer for Getty Images. Alongside a picture of Declan Rice and Mason Mount, Keogh wrote: ‘I’ve been photographing England since 1984 and I’ve never known a better team spirit. I know that doesn’t win games but I know that those that enjoy their work are the most successful. And boy do Declan Rice and Mason Mount enjoy their work.’
Here, Sportsmail profiles the bonds that have formed in the camp, the ways the players decompress and how things weren’t always this relaxed…
The togetherness of the England team has driven them on into the last four of Euro 2020
RICE AND MOUNT’S BROMANCE
Chelsea attacker Mason Mount has been friends with West Ham midfielder Declan Rice since they were eight years old at the Chelsea academy. Now, at the age of 22, the duo are cornerstones of Southgate’s side who have glory within touching distance.
Rice has started every match so far in the campaign while Mount has missed two games due to having to isolate after coming into contact with Billy Gilmour before the Scotland star’s positive Covid-19 test.
Having to sit out key moments of a major tournament was tough enough for Mount, but it had a hit on Rice’s morale too.
‘I’ve been a lost soul,’ Rice said at the time. ‘A few of the lads have come up to me and said I look lost and we’ve had a bit of banter. We have had little chats on FaceTime and things, he has been positive and been keeping himself fit in the room.’
The ‘bromance’ between Mason Mount and Declan Rice has typified the England team spirit
Rice said he felt like ‘a lost soul’ while Mount was forced into self-isolation for 10 days
Rice said that Luke Shaw did his best to cover in Mount’s absence: ‘Shawry stepped up, we are really good mates so he stepped up in Mason’s absence.’
Speaking to The Guardian in 2019, Mount said that people call him and Rice ‘Dumb and Dumber’ and that their mums go for coffee together.
Should they help steer England to glory, it might just eclipse possibly the most infamous chapter of their friendship so far – that clip of Mount giving Rice the fright of his life by screaming to wake him up while he was having a nap on holiday.
EVERYONE LOVES NEW BOY SAKA
Bukayo Saka’s impact on the England squad so far has been huge. He produced two electrifying displays in wins over the Czech Republic and Germany and Southgate has a tough decision to make over whether to start him against Denmark, with the Arsenal man fit again after missing Ukraine through injury.
But off the pitch, he is clearly adored by his England team-mates. Luke Shaw gave the most effusive praise of Saka the person in a recent interview.
‘Honestly, I love him. I would just love it if he was my child. I love him like that,’ Shaw said. ‘I feel that you could ask anyone in the squad that and they would say the same thing, about what a good guy he is.
The snap of Bukayo Saka riding a unicorn through the air amused fans across social media
Luke Shaw has opened up about how fond he has become of Saka in their time with England
‘I didn’t know him before I came to the camp and I didn’t know what he would be like but I’ve got on so well with him.
‘I would love him to be my brother. He’s so cool, he’s so funny. He makes everyone laugh – and he doesn’t mean it. He’s not a loud person but the way he is and the way he speaks is so funny.
‘Someone like that in the camp is good to have and he gets everyone laughing. We all love him and appreciate the way he is.’
Saka, of course, went viral too through a hilarious picture of him leaping into a swimming pool at St George’s Park on the back of an inflatable unicorn, only to fall off and into the water. It’s easy to see why he’s such a popular member of the group.
Saka has had a super tournament so far and is in contention for the semi-final with Denmark
SANCHO’S BOND WITH STERLING AND RASHFORD
Raheem Sterling is only 26 but with 66 caps to his name, he’s England most experienced player on the international scene.
Jadon Sancho opened up on his bond with the Manchester City man in an episode of Lion’s Den, where Sancho and Sterling were filmed messing around in the swimming pool together.
‘Raz was talking about imagining being on the beach on those shows, Too Hot to Handle,’ a highly amused Sancho explained. ‘You know when they come out the water?
‘Obviously Raz does it, I said “let me try”. It was funny though. I wouldn’t say Raz and Rashy are “my boys” as I hang out with everyone but I am probably with them most of the time.’
Jadon Sancho has opened up on the fun he has had off the pitch with Raheem Sterling
LOVE ISLAND AT ST GEORGE’S PARK
The player base at St George’s Park appears to have everything the players need to unwind between matches.
The players have a basketball court where they have enjoyed a game and, thankfully it hasn’t been an injury curse in the way England’s cricketers have found playing football in their warm-up to be.
The Euro 2020 team have also been undergoing breathing exercises, among other things, to help unwind between matches.
But Love Island has been a central point of the England squad’s viewing habits between matches.
‘Everyone is watching, I think most of the squad,’ Shaw said. ‘We have got a big screen where we watch the game and sometimes we watch a movie together. But now, in the evenings it is Love Island. Nine o’clock. That is it.
Luke Shaw said the players have been hooked on the latest series of Love Island at their camp
There is also a basketball court set up for players at St George’s Park (left), while they also partake in breathing exercises to help rest up and relax between matches
‘You book your treatment time so you are just on the bed when Love Island comes on and most of us just sit there and watch it. It is something to watch, it is good and gets everyone talking.’
Every detail has been considered for the players by the England staff. Jack Grealish spoke of how humbled he felt when he arrived at St George’s Park, saying: ‘There’s everything in camp, they’ve done a great job, as homely as possible.
‘I went into my room and there was photos of my family and dog in there. I don’t think you could get bored, it is an important thing.’
After England’s game against the Czech Republic, Ed Sheeran visited the squad and played some tunes while they watched the drama in Group D unfold and learned that they’d meet Germany in the last-16.
And as Sportsmail reported, the team were allowed a drink of Bud Light if they wanted, but not all took up the offer.
Ed Sheeran visited the England side and played songs for them after the Czech Republic game
SOUTHGATE LEADS FROM THE TOP
It only ever needs a cursory glance across social media whenever England play at the Euros to find someone remarking on how affable Gareth Southgate appears during his television interviews.
The squad’s togetherness is clearly a reflection upon how he considers them. At full-time on Saturday night in the 4-0 win over Ukraine in Rome, unused substitute Jack Grealish was one of the first players Southgate went up to, appearing to almost console him for not getting onto the pitch.
In his post-match press conference, any buoyancy from Southgate would have been completely understandable – after all, the victory over Ukraine was perhaps his finest night yet as England manager.
‘The players have been fantastic and to play as well as they did in a game where there’s so much resting on it was really impressive,’ Southgate told BBC Sport.
After the final whistle in England’s 4-0 win over Ukraine, Southgate promptly went over to Jack Grealish who was an unused substitute on the night in Rome
‘It’s a strange feeling. I’m actually at this moment just thinking about the lads we didn’t get on the pitch because the likes of Conor Coady, Ben Chilwell, Sam Johnstone and Aaron Ramsdale, they are the ones that are making this team successful because the spirit of the group is phenomenal.
‘I’m spending more energy worrying about the three I have to leave out because they’re all good players. None of them deserve to be left out.
‘They’re all giving everything in training. None of it is because I don’t think they’re up to the level but we have to make the decisions.’
It is something Steve Holland, Southgate’s assistant, has repeatedly alluded to in the past as well. He told Sportsmail in June: ‘One thing Gareth does well is speaking to every player at some period. When you pick a team, you disappoint more players than you keep happy.
‘At these Euros, 11 will start and 15 don’t. So while you don’t just select players for a tournament because they are nice guys, you need a group that understand their role. Otherwise it can derail the process.’
Southgate’s assistant Steve Holland (left) has spoken of the importance of keeping every member of the squad engaged throughout the tournament
A few days prior to Sheeran’s visit, two ice-cream vans were on site letting the players have Mr Whippy ice creams. It’s a far cry from the days of Fabio Capello, where butter was banned alongside bread at England’s 2010 World Cup base in Rustenberg, South Africa. Thankfully, whatever happens from here on, the results have been different from that campaign too.
Back in 2006, the WAGS stole the show in Germany as England crashed out at the quarter-final stage and in recent years, some of the big names in those squads have said how the fearsome club rivalries derailed the spirit in the camp at international tournaments.
‘It overshadowed things. It killed that England team, that generation,’ Rio Ferdinand told The Times in 2018. ‘One year we would have been fighting Liverpool to win the league, another year it would be Chelsea.
‘So I was never going to walk into the England dressing room and open up to Frank Lampard, Ashley Cole, John Terry or Joe Cole at Chelsea, or Steven Gerrard or Jamie Carragher at Liverpool.
‘I wouldn’t open up because of the fear they would take something back to their club and use it against us, to make them better than us. I didn’t really want to engage with them. I didn’t realise that what I was doing was hurting England at the time.’
Rio Ferdinand has spoken previously of how fierce club rivalries during the ‘Golden Generation’ era hindered England’s chances of success
Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard struggled to consistently recapture their stunning club from for England at major tournaments
Steven Gerrard, in a discussion with Frank Lampard and Ferdinand on BT Sport in November 2017, agreed.
‘I think it was more of a respectful relationship around England rather than a closeness where there was love there,’ he said. ‘(Philippe) Coutinho can’t wait to go away with Brazil, it’s the best 10 days of their season. But you didn’t get that feeling with England.
‘We have to improve the bond, the togetherness and the closeness and I think Gareth is trying to do that and I think that will help results on the pitch.’
Almost four years on from those quotes from Gerrard, it is time to acknowledge that Southgate has succeeded in fostering that togetherness. The next few days will show just how far that bond translates into success on the pitch.