Southgate put on the spot again

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The Independent Online
When England returned to Bisham Abbey this week to prepare for Sunday's match in Moldova there was the usual footballers' banter. For one player, though, it had an added piquancy. Since England's last training session, Gareth Southgate had gained an unwanted notoriety.

Having endured the mickey-taking - "it's better to have it in the open" - he then faced a greater ordeal. Meeting the press. "It is not something you can ever completely forget," he said, "there will always be reminders. It appears on television when you least expect it and you get that sickly feeling in the stomach. It will always be on my conscience that, ultimately, my miss put England out of the tournament but there is nothing I can do about it now. I have to look to the future.

"I was pleased to get back playing for Aston Villa and hope to get the opportunity to do the same for England on Sunday.

"The messages of support and letters of sympathy were a tremendous boost. It can never change what happened but it did make me feel I am fortunate to be doing what I am, to be fit and healthy. I had letters from handicapped people, from people whose children have problems, and you realise we were able to lift those people during those weeks when when we played so well and that's tremendous."

He intends answering the many letters he received except a few, including an unsigned one. Southgate explained: "I had a letter from a bloke who said 'I've got to appear in court - it should be you'."

He debunked a footballing urban myth. It was said that, in the beery aftermath of England's exit Stuart Pearce had come up to Southgate and said: "Never mind Gareth, those six years just fly past."

"He didn't say it to me," Southgate said, "but I did have a long chat to him straight after. He said that many people had written to him and he realised there is more to life than what happened. You have to keep it in perspective.

"There are two ways to react to setbacks. You can either shrivel up, sit in a corner and mope about it, or push ahead and try and do something about the future. The most nervous I felt was my first pre-season game at Walsall. It was the first time I had been in front of the public and I knew people were saying 'is he going to crumble'. I was keen to show to the public that was not going to be the case.

"I still think penalties are the fairest way. It is a test of skill, and of nerve, which is what football is about. If the situation arose again I would take one - I might practise a bit more though."

Liverpool's Steve McManaman and Robbie Fowler put off joining the England squad to see a specialist on Merseyside about their back injuries. Glenn Hoddle, the England coach, is becoming resigned to being without both when he leaves on Friday for Moldova.

His first week's training has been further disrupted by treatment to the Newcastle pair, Steve Howey and David Batty, and neither Les Ferdinand nor Paul Gascoigne trained.