WARM ale, the thwack of leather on willow, cathedral bells on a Sunday morning – these are just a few of the finest traditions in England. And now, to that nostalgic list, can be added the name of Gareth Southgate. I’d place him between roast beef with Yorkshire pudding, and day-trippers struggling to control their deck chairs on windswept, bank holiday beaches. For, as the past few weeks of World Cup fever have shown, the England football manager is the epitome of what we used to think of as Englishness at its best.

In handling his team, and the media, Southgate has shown an admirable example of good sportsmanship, thoughtfulness and humility. North of the Border, the favourite pastime of loudly supporting any team except England lost much of its savour this summer. Croatian shirts might have sold out ahead of the semi-final, but anti-English sentiment seemed decidedly less universal or heart-felt than for previous gladiatorial contests. Southgate deserves all the credit for that. Instead of being faced with the hubris and braggadocio typical of England squad managers – it was left to TV and radio commentators to supply that in spades – Britain was treated to a display of calm and sophisticated judgment, shrewd assessment, canny caution, and reasonable but not inflated optimism.

Whenever Southgate was invited to discuss the team’s chances, there was no bragging or getting carried away, no gamesmanship or point-scoring. Instead, he kept a steady focus on getting the best out of his players. In this he excelled, fostering a team spirit that, as he said, created a team that was bigger than the sum of its parts. It was a masterclass in cultivating esprit de corps, that indefinable collegiate chemistry for which England was once renowned, be it on the battlefield or cricket pitch or dockside.

Even Southgate’s attire – waistcoat, shirt and tie – demonstrated an olde-English sense of deportment, harking back to bank managers and civil servants of yore. As a result, professional football in all four quarters of the country has been given a lesson in class and decency, both of which Southgate has in abundance. And it’s not just footballers and their fans who have been taking notes. As school children the length of England donned waistcoats in support of the team, teachers reflected on the opportunity this tournament offered to teach them about fair play and accepting triumph and defeat with grace.

For many, like me, who often bridle at English sporting arrogance, Southgate’s mannerly demeanour coaxed us onside, making us hope the team reached the final. Yet the rapturous reception he and his players have received since Wednesday’s game reflects the enormous respect they have earned themselves, regardless of defeat.

Less cheeringly, it is also a reminder of how poorly others have been behaving. Does it not seem ironic – not to say shameful – that a football manager has effortlessly outshone our political leaders? Normally any mention in the daily prints of the beautiful game and its supporters is swiftly followed by tales of hedonism or hooliganism. How sobering and refreshing, then, to watch as a standard of behaviour and decorum is set by the footballing fraternity that politicians would do well to emulate.

While Southgate was inspiring his men to give of their best, the inmates of the House of Commons were behaving like fans on the randan: hurling insults, making threats, storming out in a huff, plotting revenge, and paying no heed whatsoever to the welfare of the people they have been elected to serve. At the same time as Southgate and his band of merry gentlemen were recognising the impact their success was having on the sorely bruised British morale, Brexiters and their foes were invading the European pitch, throwing verbal punches, carving up the ideological turf, squabbling and fighting in a most unedifying and – given what is at stake – alarming manner. Respect for the England players, and interest in the World Cup, rose as swiftly as confidence in those in charge of the country plummeted.

Consider, for example, the former Foreign Secretary. Boris Johnson has the unkempt appearance of Paddington Bear after an encounter with a marmalade sandwich, though with none of the charisma or ethical code. Wholly self-interested, he has been proved to be treacherous and without scruple. In contrast, Southgate is not just sartorially stylish, but considered and consistent in his statements – no racist outbursts, no preposterous u-turns. Above all, he is concerned with the greater good of the nation. He might not have the amusing rhetorical flourishes of Downing Street’s Desperate Dan, but he can be taken at his word.

Sadly, it’s not just Mr Johnson who measures up poorly by his side. Not one member of the Cabinet – and pitifully few on the opposition benches – has the qualities of leadership necessary to draw the UK together in this perilous period of political change.

Minutes after Croatia beat England, a female friend speculated whether Southgate would ever consider a career in politics. What testimony to the nation-building power of sport. And to the dismal performances we have to witness every day on the playing fields of Westminster.