England's vice-captain for tonight's big match against Slovakia is Middlesbrough
England's vice-captain for tonight's big match against Slovakia is Middlesbrough's experienced centre-back Gareth Southgate...
"I'm fortunate enough to have played for England all over the world," says the Middlesbrough skipper. "Every time you pull on the shirt it's a very special moment. But to play for your country on your own club ground, in front of your own fans, would be extra-extra special."
Southgate's completed his half century of England caps earlier this season, against Portugal at the home of his former club, Villa Park, and tonight will be vice-captain as England take on Slovakia in a crunch Euro 2004 qualifier.
His involvement with England began in December 1995, just a few months after his transfer from Crystal Palace to Aston Villa.
"I think Terry Venables had looked at me at Palace - and once I'd moved from midfield back into defence he decided to give me a go."
With perfect timing, Gareth's regular inclusion in the starting line-up co-incided with the 1996 European Championships held, of course, in England.
Unfortunately for Southgate, the one moment that will live forever from those Championships will be Andreas Kopke saving Southgate's weakly struck sudden-death penalty in the shootout in the England-Germany semi-final.
"The penalty miss initially clouded my judgement as to how well things had gone up to that point," says the 32 year-old. "I'm a bit older and a bit more reflective. Looking back, I'd had a decent tournament overall - it's a shame I couldn't have enjoyed it more at the time."
While many of the game's greats have ended their careers bemoaning a lack of major tournament play, Gareth is grateful to have made the squads for the last two World Cups and a second European Championship, in 2000.
"I was injured in the first match in France [World Cup '98] and lost my place in the starting eleven - and I didn't have much involvement in the last two tournaments, but it was still a great experience to be there. I've been involved with England for eight years now - that's longer than I've been at any club!"
Never a prolific scorer at club level, Gareth netted only his second goal for the Three Lions in last month's friendly away to South Africa.
"My first England goal came against Luxembourg in 1998. I'd gone up for a set-piece, seen a header blocked and slammed home the rebound. My second was that header in the first minute against South Africa last month. It's been a long time coming but I was delighted to get it."
One of Gareth's enduring qualities is the obvious joy he experiences when playing for England.
"I love playing for England and every time I line up for the anthems I remember those who helped me get so far - teachers, family, friends... everybody. When you set out in the game you want to achieve as much as you can and it's every footballer's dream to play for their country."
by James Wright
Place of Birth: Watford
Date of Birth: 3 September 1970
Weight: 12 03
Height: 6' 0''
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