Harry’s Heroes – it’s about more than just football
In this past week, ITV1 broadcasted three episodes of ‘Harry’s Heroes – Euro Having a Laugh’. This was a follow up from last year’s ‘Harry’s Heroes – The Full English’ where ex-England footballers lost weight and got fit to be able to eventually play a football match against England’s historic footballing rivals, Germany. The show was great for football fans, and those who just wanted to be entertained, but I took from it a much more important message.
This time around, the show again focused of getting fit and losing weight in order for the footballing heroes, along with some new ones, to again play against an ex-German international side, this time in Germany. The team went on tour, starting in France, then Italy, and they then ended up in Germany, playing a few matches along the way. I am assuming that the programme was meant to also coincide with the start of the European Championships, but as these have been postponed this year, it actually coincided with a very important week – Mental Health Awareness Week in the UK. This week is run by the Mental Health Foundation and aims to raise awareness of mental health and mental health problems, with the theme of this year’s week being kindness. Whether intentional or not, ‘Harry’s Heroes’ actually showed kindness on a huge scale.
Male mental health is a huge talking point because there is still a stigma around males showing emotion and talking about how they feel, especially in the realms of football. Therefore, to see ex-England footballers talk about their battles with depression, alcoholism, gambling addiction, and other personal struggles, was extremely refreshing. Not only that, friendships also shone through, with some of the players talking to one another, and giving each other support and kindness. In particular, ex-Aston Villa player Lee Hendrie discussing his depression was incredibly moving. Personally, I had never seen Lee play football before, and only knew his name from this programme, but his story and the honesty he spoke with made more of an impression on me than any goal he scored ever could. Although saying that, he scored some great goals in the games they played in the show!
After watching the many discussions on the show about the mental health struggles some of the men spoke about, it made me think about how many people would have been sat at home watching, or catching up on demand, and are now taking steps to improve their own mental health. Not just that, some may not have understood things like depression or addiction, and may have gained some insight into what people can go through. I’m sure the target demographic for the show was probably largely older males – men who would have watched and cheered on these ex-England players in the 1980s and 1990s. The fact that such a spotlight was given to the struggles a lot of them had can’t not be highlighted, because I am sure a huge positive impact has been made from it. Having a footballing hero talk about their mental health struggles allows for the people watching to understand that mental health does not discriminate. It doesn’t matter how much money or fame a person has, everyone can struggle with their mental health.
I’d like to say a huge thank you to everyone who made this show. Whether intentional or not, I think that using football as a backdrop to talk about mental health can reduce the stigma talking about mental health still has. As always, the more something is talked about, the more it becomes the norm, which can only be a positive thing. There is never any shame in talking about something you are struggling with, because that is the first step to dealing with it.
Sarah Keeping MBPsS MSc PgDip GDip BA (Hons) Cert HE
Follow Sarah on twitter at @keepingapproach