None of us know what our biggest legacy might be

File photo dated 29-06-2021 of England's Marcus Rashford, Jadon Sancho, Raheem Sterling, and Bukayo

England's Marcus Rashford, Jadon Sancho, Raheem Sterling, and Bukayo Saka. - Credit: PA

A passion for wellbeing with Katie Webber:

A friend challenged me to write about football in my column a couple of weeks ago, when the country was caught up in the excitement of the approaching Euros final.

Although I watched a lot of football with my brother growing up, I haven’t had an active interest for years, so I decided against it.

Over the following week I listened to stories about Gareth Southgate’s leadership: how his teams’ success wasn’t just about strategy and camaraderie and fitness, but his choice to enable and empower them to be individuals, with opinions and passions, off the pitch.

All of the stories mentioned Marcus Rashford, and the role he played in the provision of free school meals during lockdown.

I read the letter to England written by Southgate in early June, and these lines stood out: “There’s something I tell our players before every England game... I tell them that when you go out there, in this shirt, you have the opportunity to produce moments that people will remember forever. You are a part of an experience that lasts in the collective consciousness of our country.”

When he wrote that, Southgate was probably thinking about goals and tackles and saves.

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He couldn’t have predicted that the moments the world would remember most vividly would be reactions to the unsuccessful penalty shots of Rashford and two other members of the squad, human beings then less well known by people outside footballing circles. 

I felt such sadness at those reactions.

Unsurprisingly I was, and am, especially concerned for 19-year-old Bukayo Saka, and the impact that it will be having on his mental health.

My brother reassured me that he will be getting all the help he needs, and I reminded myself that this may not have been the case even a few years ago, because mental health wasn’t a consideration then.

My sadness lifted slightly. 

I remembered past England captain Rio Ferdinand’s honesty in opening up about his struggles with mental illness.

I imagined the individuals young and old who will have felt able to be honest and seek support because of him.

I felt a little more hopeful. 

My sadness lifted still further when I heard a news story on Riviera radio last week about the Healthy Holidays scheme that will be run across Torbay this summer, as part of the Government’s Holiday Activities and Food programme.

The programme has been running activities for children including those eligible for free school meals since 2018.

Post pandemic, and largely due to the support of Marcus Rashford, it has been given a huge boost in funding, and this summer around £220 million will be spent across the UK.

I always search for the silver lining in any situation - I suppose partly because I have to, so that my mind doesn’t spiral into a grey place.

So, I choose to think not of the moments on the pitch that dominate headlines directly afterwards, but the private moments of individuals affected by outward ripples long after a final whistle has blown.

Instead of the people sitting on Twitter writing hateful, dangerous things, I choose to think of the individuals now able to understand themselves better who are receiving support, and the children who will receive nourishment of body, mind and spirit when they take part in the sporting, creative, team activities on offer around the country this summer. 

Southgate missed a penalty in the Euros in 1996, and he has gone on to lead and inspire in ways that he could only have imagined back then.

None of us know what our biggest legacy might be.

All we can do is try to ensure that whatever it is, it will be one we would be proud of.

For information on Healthy Holidays events being run across Torbay this summer visit www.torbay.gov.uk and search ‘Healthy Holidays’.