I woke this morning to two pieces of contrasting sporting news.
The first was Josh Leather’s fantastic points victory over the previously undefeated Fergus Taylor in London last night. Today is the Guisborough-based light-welterweight’s 23rd birthday, and can celebrate in the knowledge that he preserved his own unblemished record against a very tough opponent.
Obviously there are any number of talented young fighters out there, all striving to be the best in their respective weight division, but under the guidance of my good friend Imran Naeem, Josh is making impressive progress and has all the dedication, determination, strength and skill needed to continue his rise through the professional ranks.
Josh is also blessed with lightning hand speed – as I found out to my cost when I stepped into the ring with him for a charity sparring session – and the proverbial boxing sky really is the limit for this likeable young man.
The second story concerned the Australian cricketer Phil Hughes, who was felled by a short-pitched delivery whilst batting for South Australia during a Sheffield Shield match against New South Wales earlier today. The left-handed opener had already passed his half century, when he was hit on the helmet whilst attempting to hook a bouncer bowled by Sean Abbott.
According to reports, Hughes bent forward, and rested his hands on his knees, before collapsing face-first to the ground. He was treated on the field, but required mouth-to-mouth resuscitation before being rushed to hospital for emergency brain surgery. As I write, Phil Hughes is in an induced coma and the outcome of the surgery may not be known until later in the week.
There are some sports where the physical danger is glaringly obvious – and boxing is very close to, if not right at the top of the list. But there are situations when serious injury can be sustained in almost any sporting arena, and the awful scenes at the Sydney Cricket Ground are a stark reminder of what can happen – even to the very best - in literally a fraction of a second.
I remember a New Zealander named Ewen Chatfield being hit in similar sickening fashion by Peter Lever (of Lancashire and England). It was in the pre-helmet days of the mid-1970s and as far as I can recall Chatfield swallowed his tongue and was only saved by the swift intervention of the England team doctor…
Don’t get me wrong, I am chuffed to bits for Josh, Imran and the rest of Team Leather, but my thoughts and prayers today are with Phil Hughes and his family, as the 25 year-old faces the toughest conceivable battle, and also with Sean Abbott, whose feelings I cannot even begin to imagine.
Here’s hoping Phil makes a full recovery.
The story of a tragic death – amatueur rugby league player Anthony Hughes - and a subsequent Facebook post from an old friend last night prompted me to think back to the moment that ultimately led me to talk openly for the first time about my experiences of depression.
That “moment” took place almost three years ago to the day, and was followed less than a week later by the suicide of the Wales football manager Gary Speed. His passing brought the whole subject of mental health to the forefront of the public consciousness, and ultimately gave me the courage to post a blog that was incredibly difficult to write, but the personal importance of which far outweighed the embarrassment of revelation, and the (probably understandable) concern about the perception and reaction of others.
There was a selfish element to the blog. Nobody knew what I was about to say; and those who read my story certainly didn’t ask – and maybe didn’t want to be made aware of - what had stayed hidden below the surface of someone who (in plenty of cases) they had “known” for many years. That said, reading any, let alone all, of the blog was not compulsory, but for the writer it was something that (now, bizarrely, in the third person singular) he felt he simply had to do.
I was overwhelmed by the positive response – both from those who felt moved to share their own experiences, to those who felt some kind of admiration for what I’d done. The comments relating to the latter were unnecessary, and underserved... but appreciated nonetheless.
So have things changed since 2011?
The answer is a very definite “yes”.
There are still occasional dark episodes. They are not always caused by anything specific, but whilst knowing the cause might make the effect easier to explain, it doesn’t necessarily lessen the impact. Even though I’ve probably had “issues” since my teens, I have only relatively recently (and clearly belatedly) become able to accept the person I am.
And I do believe I have become stronger. I can’t predict when the blackness might descend, anymore than I can stop it from descending, but I now recognise the signs. And even if I can’t completely control how I am affected, I always have an opportunity to consciously remember those coping mechanisms that help me to gather my strength for the next silent unseen fight.
Having love and support in my life is incredibly important, even though some of the struggle must be fought alone; and this year’s series of challenges – undertaken on behalf of the mental health charity Mind – has given me yet more confidence in myself, and determination to confront this horrible, invisible, debilitating illness. I have typed these words with no embarrassment, no regret, no shame... just a huge sense of pride at how far I’ve come. I’ve proved so much to myself, and hopefully to my darling wife Elaine and everyone else who has believed, and continues to believe in me (you know who you are, and I’m so grateful to you all); and it all started because on 4th December 2011, I took one massive leap of faith....
Snapper... I wish you well my friend.
I’m not sure there’s too much to be added to the various reviews of Doctor Who’s series 8 finale Death in Heaven. It was a wonderful way to end one of the programme’s best ever seasons; one in which Doctor and companion have been magnificent, both together and apart.
I’m sure the debate regarding Peter Capaldi and Jenna Coleman’s position in their respective “best ever” categories is already raging; however I’m not going to get overly involved. The truth is that it’s almost impossible to compare the classic series with the current... stories seen through the eyes of a child, compared with those watched through an adult’s corrective lenses. All I will say is that over the past decade – and given some top quality stories and (mercifully) understandable plot lines – Capaldi’s incarnation and Clara stand head and shoulders above their undeniably illustrious predecessors.
The cyber-return of the Brigadier, the influence of Danny Pink on proceedings, a female “Master”, the touching parting lies of the main protagonists... all helped to bring the eighth series to a hugely impressive end, but along with all the high points and “tributes”, I want to acknowledge what I viewed as Steven Moffat’s nod to the 1960s Cybermen....
Notwithstanding the metallic march through London in Dark Water, We saw (what I believe to be) an Invasion helmet from 1968, casually thrown onto a twenty-first century road by the Brigadier’s daughter Kate. The references to the Tomb of the Cybermen were obvious – both in the funeral home, and also in the tanks during the story’s first part. The reveal of a “hidden” Cyberman (the late Danny Pink) tossing aside a sheet and climbing down from a bed was clearly a reworking of the episode 2 cliff hanger from The Moonbase... “Did they search in here...?”
But for me the most memorable moment was unseen – and probably missed by many. It was one short line spoken by the radio reporter during the funeral home scene. Stories of the silver giants’ appearance had been received and, I quote: “Similar reports are coming in from all over the world”.
And this from The Tenth Planet in 1966:
WIGNER: “Yes, General?”
CUTLER: “The expected [Cyberman] attack, sir. They’ve been sighted in force.”
WIGNER: “Yes, I know. We’ve just got reports. They are coming in from all over the world.”
Almost identical... What a thoughtful, understated tribute to one of Doctor Who’s most enduring adversaries.
In many ways it has been a series where lines, expressions, gestures - the little things so easily overlooked - have elevated some very strong stories to compelling drama of the very highest quality. Christmas can’t come soon enough.