A VINTAGE summer of sport. An embarrassment of riches – Wimbledon, the Euros, Test matches, F1, Open Golf, a Lions Tour, the Tokyo Olympics. Thank goodness for homeworking. Unless sport’s not your bag. Then you might want to pull the bedclothes tightly over your head.

Boy, do we all need a pick-me-up after the last 16 months. And what better way than to re-invigorate our sporting allegiances. So let me put cards on the table – I hope England win the Euros. Yes, there’ll be a price to pay – England fans banging on about it for the next 30 years. I can live with that to see homegrown Premier League players, who we watch and enjoy weekly, succeed on the international stage.

Thanks to satellite TV, it’s commonplace for Scottish school children to support teams in England or even further afield, in Spain or Italy. Though born and bred in Scotland, my eccentric choice of football team has been, for the last 53 years, West Ham United – not a team you support for the number of trophies they win. And an unusual choice in those days for a team rarely reported in the Scottish press or appearing on TV north of the border. It endowed the club with a mysterious allure.

READ MORE: Hampden is much maligned but is a priceless piece of Scottish footballing and social history, by Hugh MacDonald

My support for the Irons is simple – the 1970 World Cup. Scotland had failed to qualify, so young Scottish school boys used to collect World Cup coins of England players at Esso petrol stations. And the England stars? Bobby Moore, Geoff Hurst and Martin Peters, all playing in claret and blue for this funny East London club, and who won the World Cup for England in 1966.

Years later I went to a West Ham game. One problem – someone was already in my seat. And not just any old someone. Sir Geoff Hurst – hat-trick hero of ’66. Covered in confusion, I politely suggested he might be sitting in the wrong seat. Graciously he consented to move. Imagine the horror, returning to my seat after half-time, to find Sir Geoff once again sitting in my seat. After showing Sir Geoff his second yellow card, order was restored and I enjoyed his wonderfully unsentimental critique of the team’s performance.

Sporting heroes are important. They can be role models and inspire us all to be more physically active. How many people will feel more inclined to pick up a tennis racket watching the Wimbledon exploits of 18-year-old Emma Raducanu? Dip a toe in the water or don a pair of boots having seen Olympic freestyler Duncan Scott and footballer Billy Gilmour perform?

It’s easy to be dazzled by the fame and fortunes of successful sportsmen and miss the keys to their success. The sacrifices they’ve made. The commitment they’ve shown. The mindset and work ethic to reach the top.

Demonstrating natural talent only takes you so far. Gilmour started his football journey at Rangers aged 8. One member of Team GB’s skateboarding team will be only 13 when she competes in Tokyo. Andy Murray is a special tennis talent. Yet none of his Grand Slams would’ve been won without work on practice courts and in the gym. And think of young swimmers happy to rise daily at 5am to train before school and back again for more after.

Listen to elite athletes being interviewed; they all say the same thing. They cope with pressure and succeed by focussing on process rather than outcome. Their philosophy is, “if I’ve trained well and do every element of a race or a game to the best of my ability then the result will take care of itself”. Disciplined routine, like Rafa Nadal’s quirky habit of hitching up his shorts before every serve.

HeraldScotland: Billy GilmourBilly Gilmour

Of course, such intensity takes its toll on mind and body. If sport’s a defining part of your identity, form loss, injury and retirement can jeopardise it. Rugby player Jonny Wilkinson has spoken movingly of his conviction that he needed to “destroy myself physically and mentally” to be the best. Other conditions such as RED-S – where athletes eat too little to support the energy they expend in the belief an idealised lean body type wins more competitions – are increasingly recognised.

Mental wellbeing is now a priority for sports governing bodies. Quite right too. And vital if successful athletes are to be positive role models for the rest of us.

We think of sport as spare time, leisure and recreation. A Cinderella amongst seemingly weightier public policy issues. Yet sport’s contribution to life is about so much more. Regular physical activity has direct health benefits for chronic diseases like diabetes and heart disease. It can help reduce anxiety, fight depression, lift mood and boost confidence. Sport has educational benefits too, teaching the importance of organisation, teamwork and discipline. And how many youngsters with abundant energy has sport steered clear of mischief?

Sport is woven into the fabric of our society. Scotland’s 13,000 sports clubs, their 1 million members and dedicated army of 200,000 volunteers are integral to local communities the length and breadth of the land. Environments in which life-long friendships are forged.

READ MORE: Alison Rowat: Is a Scotland that supports England on to a winner?

And sport is something that Scotland does well, exemplified by Glasgow’s ranking as the world’s 5th ultimate sporting city.

In 2019, the Scottish Government commissioned the Jarvie Review of the Scottish Sporting Landscape. It concluded that Scottish sport needs a clear, agreed common purpose and an effective voice.

That was before Covid. Its conclusions are even more pertinent today. With the right support, sport can play a big part in recovery. Many of Scotland’s 70 sporting governing bodies collectively launched the “Power of Sport” campaign. To increase participation by improving and making more accessible our sporting infrastructure. It attracted little attention.

During lockdown many people have re-discovered the importance of exercise for physical and mental well-being. What better time to re-boot this campaign than in our rich summer of sport and new sporting heroes?

Our columns are a platform for writers to express their opinions. They do not necessarily represent the views of The Herald.