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The vital issue driving Scotland fan’s walk to Euro 2024

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What lengths would you go to in order to support your country at a major tournament? Would you walk 500 miles? And then 500 more? When Craig Ferguson arrives in Munich on the eve of Euro 2024, the 20-year-old from Paisley will have walked 1,000 miles in 41 days across six countries to support Scotland in Germany and fulfill a lifelong dream.

But for Ferguson, an epic challenge has been fuelled by a greater cause. After departing Hampden on 5 May in his kilt and Scotland top, with only a pack of additional clothes and supplies strapped to his back, his long days on the road have been driven by raising funds for men’s mental health and male suicide prevention charities. There has been a close source of inspiration, too. The idea of walking from Hampden to Munich came from one of Ferguson’s best mates, whose dad took his own life while they were teenagers in high school.

“It’s such a big issue,” Ferguson tells The Independent from the German countryside, just outside of Stuttgart. “Football unites a lot of men together. Using the Euros to channel that energy into spreading awareness of men’s mental health, I thought it was the perfect opportunity.”

According to the Office of National Statistics, an average of 12 men a day take their own life in the UK. Around 75 per cent of suicides are male, and it is the leading cause of death for men under the age of 45. The figures are harrowing, and concern the group of fans most likely to make the trip to Germany to support Scotland or England this summer.

Ferguson is part of the generation of Scotland fans who have the chance to travel to a major men’s international tournament for the first time. They will do so in their tens of thousands. Scotland playing the opening game of the Euros against hosts Germany will bring back memories of the curtain-raiser against Brazil at the 1998 World Cup, but not for all. For anyone too young to remember that evening at the Stade de France, when the eyes of the world were on Scotland, it will be their time to soak in the tournament atmosphere on the continent: a moment to unite the nation.

Ferguson’s challenge ensures the topic of men’s mental health can be at the forefront of conversations, alongside the football. After researching options, he decided to raise funds for the Glasgow charity Brothers in Arms. The organisation aims to remove the stigma around men’s mental health by encouraging men to seek help and not suffer in silence. Ferguson’s challenge is close to passing £40,000 in donations and the messages he has received from back home have been a further driving force when the days are getting hard and the legs are screaming to stop.

“You realise that everyone has their own story,” Ferguson says. “And if it’s not them personally, they know someone who has been affected by it.”

Ferguson, who has smashed his target of raising £10,000, after passing the border into German
Ferguson, who has smashed his target of raising £10,000, after passing the border into German (craigferguson_1 Instagram)

Ferguson and his mates are conscious of talking to each other about their mental health. “I’ve wanted to try and be someone who helps others and be there for people who are dealing with their own mental health, and I’m the same,” he says. “One of my favourite quotes is I would rather one of my mates cry into my shoulder than be at his funeral. It really hits home. You’d rather see your friends vulnerable than have to ever deal with that. What could be worse.”

The timing of what is only Scotland’s second men’s international tournament since 1998 is a moment to reflect how awareness of men’s mental health has shifted, while recognising the importance of improving the access to support. Within the Tartan Army that travelled to the World Cup 26 years ago, there may have been a prevailing culture that talking about such issues was a sign of weakness rather than a display if strength. A generational tournament for Scotland can show how certain barriers are being broken down.

Football has the power to spark those conversations, or, at least, the sight of a kilt-wearing Scotsman in rural Germany can provoke a question or two. “You get some looks but the kilt has been the icebreaker,” Ferguson laughs. “As soon as I’ve mentioned the message, people have resonated with the cause.”

There have been highs and lows along the way: from the comedown that followed the wave of energy of his Hampden departure, to losing phone signal in the pitch-black of a remote forest in the Netherlands, to days of “never-ending” rain. It will all be worth it, though, to hear the Flower of Scotland on Friday night in Munich. “It shows the lengths Scotland fans are willing to go,” Ferguson adds. “We can’t take these tournaments for granted. Showcasing that, it’s just brilliant.”

The friend who inspired Ferguson’s journey will meet him at the finish line. It reaffirms his committment to reaching Munich on time. “For someone that age, for their dad to take their life so suddenly, it was out of nowhere,” he says. “That’s the stark reality: you never really know and it’s often the people you least expect who are struggling the most. That’s why awareness is so important.”

To donate to Craig’s Walk for Brothers in Arms, click here

If you are experiencing feelings of distress, or are struggling to cope, you can speak to the Samaritans, in confidence, on 116 123 (UK and ROI), email jo@samaritans.org, or visit the Samaritans website to find details of your nearest branch. If you are based in the USA, and you or someone you know needs mental health assistance right now, call or text 988, or visit 988lifeline.org to access online chat from the 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline. This is a free, confidential crisis hotline that is available to everyone 24 hours a day, seven days a week. If you are in another country, you can go to www.befrienders.org to find a helpline near you.

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