I am extremely patriotic; I’m proud to be English, but I am equally proud to be British and follow the fortunes of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland in pretty much any and every international sport – something that applies to the Republic of Ireland as well. I particularly love watching the players as they sing their national anthem, and seeing just what it means for elite sportsmen and women to represent their country.
The little photo collage highlights Scotland’s progress into the Rugby World Cup quarter-finals, the qualification of Wales and Northern Ireland for Euro 2016 – the first in a major competition for both countries since 1958 and 1982 respectively - and the Republic’s stunning victory over Germany, a result that sets up Martin O’Neill’s side for today’s crucial game with Poland.
As for England, well our rugby side exited the World Cup with barely a whimper and the footballers overcame the might of Estonia in a fairly drab encounter at Wembley. In doing so England preserved their 100% record in the qualifying group, and given that only five other teams have ever achieved that throughout a full European Championship programme, it is a pretty impressive record. Less impressive is the fact that England haven’t set the world (or Europe for that matter) alight when it comes to tournament finals... and of the other five countries to qualify with an unblemished record, only one made it to the final (Spain in 2012). For now though you can do no more than top your group, and we’ll just have to wait and see what happens in France next year.
I would not single out any of the events or achievements of these past few days as being more notable than another, but in the week of World Mental Health Day, I want to remember Gary Speed, the former Wales manager, who made such a positive difference to Welsh football before his untimely and tragic passing in 2011.
It was Gary’s death that prompted me to talk openly about my own experiences with what was diagnosed as depression, but I now know is more specifically dysthymia; and in duly acknowledging the fine on-field performances of all those British and Irish teams this week, I want to close by simply saluting the memory and the bravery of Gary Speed.