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Three Lions most important on England shirt – Southgate

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England boss Gareth Southgate says having the Three Lions on the team’s shirt is “the most important thing” amid the controversy over the St George’s Cross design on the new kit.

Kit designer Nike has changed the appearance of the St George’s Cross on the back of the collar by adding purple and blue to the traditional red.

“It depends which bit it is because I don’t know if the debate is about the St George Flag needing to be on the England shirt because it hasn’t always been,” said Southgate.

“The most important thing that has to be on an England shirt are the Three Lions. It’s our iconic symbol.

“It is what distinguishes us not only from other football teams around the world but England rugby and cricket.”

He added: “What you’re really asking is, ‘Should we be tampering with the cross of St George?’.

“In my head, if it’s not a red cross on a white background then it isn’t the cross of St George anyway. It’s presumably some artistic take which I’m not creative enough to understand.”

The new England shirt has what Nike calls a “playful update” to the St George’s Cross

England play Brazil on Saturday (19:00 GMT) before facing Belgium on Tuesday in two matches at Wembley and Southgate said the furore had “not taken anything away from what we’ve been preparing”.

Prime minister Rishi Sunak and and Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer have both criticised the design.

The Football Association is standing by the design of the kit and has no intention to recall or change it, saying the alteration to the St George’s Cross is “meant as a tribute to the 1966 World Cup-winning team”.

“It is not the first time that different coloured St George’s Cross-inspired designs have been used on England shirts,” said the FA.

“We are very proud of the red and white St George’s Cross – the England flag.

“We understand what it means to our fans, and how it unites and inspires, and it will be displayed prominently at Wembley on Saturday – as it always is – when England play Brazil.”

Nike had described the design as a “playful update” and the men’s team will debut the shirt when England host Brazil.

“We have been a proud partner of the FA since 2012 and understand the significance and importance of the St George’s Cross and it was never our intention to offend, given what it means to England fans,” said the sportswear manufacturer.

“Together with the FA, the intention was to celebrate the heroes of 1966 and their achievements.

“The trim on the cuffs takes its cues from the training gear worn by England’s 1966 heroes, with a gradient of blues and reds topped with purple. The same colours also feature an interpretation of the flag on the back of the collar.”

‘Much ado about nothing’ – Barnes

Former England international John Barnes described the controversy about the colours on the St George’s Cross as “much ado about nothing”.

“I didn’t even know there was a flag on the back anyway so I don’t know what the fuss is,” he said.

“I think there would be a different conversation to be had if you were going to change the Three Lions because that’s what England is.

“They’re not changing the colour of the shirt. The shirt is exactly the same.

“If there were different Lions or they weren’t going to be on there – for me – that would have been a proper debate to be had.”

Analysis

Alex Howell, BBC Sport football news reporter

As in most England press conferences there were a lot of talking points and questions that were put to Gareth Southgate and not all of them were to do with matters on the pitch.

The discussion of the day has been around the St George’s Flag on the back of the new England home shirt and whether it should have been changed by Nike.

Southgate has been an excellent spokesperson for the FA on a number of off-field issues including Covid, taking the knee, racism in football, the war in Ukraine and lots more.

However, in recent camps he’s gone into less detail about matters off the field. This is the last camp before he names his training squad for the European Championships and he would like to keep the talk on football matters.

When asked about the change of the St George’s flag on the new shirt, Southgate’s answer showed he does not want to dwell on an issue that has even seen the Prime Minister involved before an important couple of games in the build-up to this summer’s Euros.

Southgate has also been in the media spotlight this week with links to the manager’s job at Manchester United, where Erik ten Hag has come under pressure.

However, the England manager shut down any further talk about his future a couple of times in this press conference.

Southgate said his only job is to deliver a European Championship and he finds it disrespectful to comment on a job while a manager is in the post.

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