Former Gareth Southgate PE teacher reveals England manager’s early cricket talent

The longtime Charlton Athletic academy director and former Gareth Southgate PE teacher explains that the England manager was not an extrovert at school but his leadership qualities shone through

Next time Gareth Southgate When the band gets back together, they know what task awaits them at the end World Championship in acoustic Qatar – Iran, USA and possibly Wales or Scotland.

And at Charlton Athletic, a club with an enviable conveyor belt for young talent, academy director Steve Avory will be grateful for his supporting role in the rise of the teenager who is now calling the shots England. A teacher at Hazelwick School in Three Bridges near Crawley, Avory spent his first term persuading Southgate to play cricket.

Though he could flip his arm and hold a racquet by the thin end – a trick used by some The England cricket team current top-class fools have yet to be mastered – “North” (because his speech was like that of a TV presenter Denis Nordens ) had dedicated his heart to playing football. Southgate, a champion schoolboy in the triple jump and decent 200-metre sprinter, could have chosen several sports as a career option and Avory’s lobbying to get him onto the school’s cricket team was always destined to hit a straight bat .

Down at the Sparrows Lane training ground in Charlton, Avory’s 21-year service as a mentor to young talent is embedded in the club’s DNA. But he has always followed the progress of a student from his previous incarnation who seemed made for leadership from an early age. And 35 years after their paths crossed at Three Bridges, he’s leading the Three Lions to the World Cup.

“When I entered the school in 1987, it was the summer semester when cricket, athletics and tennis were the major sports on the program,” Avory said. “I tutored Gareth that first semester – I remember the group he was in and my focus was on getting him on the school cricket team.

“Batter or bowler? He was a very talented all-around athlete with a keen eye for the ball, and his father was a track and field coach. I have also taught Dan Walkerthe BBC Presenter – he played cricket and football but wasn’t quite as talented as Gareth. I’ve met Gareth over the years, mostly through his FA connections or at pre-pandemic conferences at St George’s Park. He wasn’t an outgoing character by any means, but he was good academically and what naturally happens is that your peer group develops a certain respect for you, especially when you’re so talented in a range of sports, but he sure was captain material.

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England football manager Gareth Southgate chats with former England spinner Ashley Giles during the 2019 Cricket World Cup at Lord’s


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“Other kids would look up to him for his skills and also for his temperance. I’m really happy for him because I followed his career from afar until the end. There have been some tough times at crystal palace at the start, but Alan Smith saw something in him early on and made him captain at 20. I can imagine that as a young apprentice he was as committed as I would demand of our young people at the academy here in Charlton to become the best he can on a daily basis. He was a thinker – not necessarily loud, but respected. He was an articulate, polite young man who didn’t seem to have steely determination off the field but, my goodness, he was a damn good competitor on the field.”

Avory’s work at Charlton speaks for itself. He is one of English football’s unsung jewelers, polishing diamonds in the rough that are now scattered throughout the leagues. “The club’s record for producing capable young players was a factor in my decision to come here full-time,” he said. “Actually, I didn’t want to give up teaching back then, but football coaching has always been a big topic for me – Scott Parker was on my team when I came here – and if I was going to make the step from a solid career to football coaching, I wanted to go to a club with some pedigree.

“I had no intention of staying here for more than 20 years, but I have always believed that staff longevity is an important element of success, both on the pitch and for the messages conveyed to the players that you spend so much time evolving. Talent alone is not enough, and I have often applied this maxim. I understand that players have dreams and I have no problem with that, but they need to understand them more than the ability that got you here in the first place.”

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