The game's not always beautiful: the mental health battle of Euro 2024

Over the next few weeks the nation collectively holds its breath, crossing fingers and with hearts willing Gareth Southgate's boys to victory. As the song goes, after so many 'years of hurt', is it really coming home? Dare we believe that England could win a trophy this time?

The pitches in Germany will become a battleground where legends are born, and history is written. In 1966 the England team, forever etched in our memories, lifted the World Cup and Bobby Moore became an icon. Their triumph echoes through time, celebrated and revered in our national history. Yet, for every victor, there are those who missed the mark – those years of hurt and the penalty takers whose names became synonymous with heartache.

Who of us will ever forget those moments where England to a man and woman exclaimed "Noooo!"? Lampard, Rashford, Saka, and perhaps most memorably, Southgate himself. The misses are stuff of legend and TV adverts alike.

They may have Three Lions on their chest, but it takes a heart of a lion to step up and take on the pressure of a penalty and all that comes with it, score or miss. And for those who do miss, the mental scars endure, a reminder that defeat can be as defining as victory.

The reality is that beyond the roar of the crowd lies a quieter struggle – one that can shape careers and lives. I mean the mental toll of major championships, the pressure an expectant nation places on the shoulders of those young men and women, and the need to ensure that players get the help and support they need to cope with such a herculean challenge.

Both Rashford and Saka spoke of the tirade of racist abuse they received after the defeat on penalties. Chris Waddle confessed that to this day he can't watch replays of his miss. Elite athletes sacrifice more than sweat and stamina. They carry the weight of expectations, dreams and fears. When the final whistle blows, they face not only the scoreboard but also their own demons. Enter the sports chaplain – a silent companion who listens, prays and offers solace. They understand that athletes are more than their performance; they are human beings navigating a high-stakes arena. It is for moments like this that a group of volunteers called sports chaplains exist.

Sports Chaplaincy UK stands at the intersection of faith and sport. From club matches to elite competitions, our chaplains provide a safe space – a sanctuary where players, staff and supporters can share their burdens, victories and vulnerabilities. They don't make headlines, but their impact is profound. At the Olympics, they stood alongside athletes, offering more than medals – a lifeline of hope.

Defeat can be brutal. It gnaws at reputations, chips away at confidence, and leaves scars unseen. The missed penalties haunt players long after the stadium lights dim. But sports chaplains are there, quietly and privately, helping them navigate the emotional aftermath. They remind athletes that resilience isn't just about winning; it's about rising after a fall.

Sports Chaplaincy UK was established in 1991. Our vision was to pioneer sports chaplaincy and sports ministry, recognising the unique needs of athletes, coaches, and staff beyond the scoreboard. Since then, we have grown into a vital force, providing consistent and high-quality chaplaincy across various sports. Our team of volunteers are now commonplace in many sports, including men's, women's, all-ability, mixed-ability, and disability sports. Our network spans grassroots clubs to global competitions.

During major events like Euros 2024 or the Olympics, our chaplains support behind the scenes. They celebrate victories and console after defeats. Their work is confidential, not driven by kudos or fandom, but by the compassion of Christ. We want the 30 million men, women, and children engaged in the community of sport to be cared for within a community they love, from a person they trust.

We all want England – and let's not forget our friends in Scotland – to triumph, but we mustn't neglect the journey nor its toll – the late-night training sessions, the sacrifices, the sheer determination and the strain of representing a country so desperate to win. So as the players step onto the field, let's applaud their effort, resilience and sheer courage. Whether they lift the trophy or face defeat, they are part of a legacy – a testament to the human spirit. Come on England!

Warren Evans is the CEO of Sports Chaplaincy. To find out more, visit