Former Scotland manager Alex McLeish has become an ambassador for the Catherine McEwan Foundation - a charity which helps people living with Crohn’s and Colitis.
The ex-Aberdeen defender, capped 77 times by the national team, has a close family connection to the organisation as his sons Jon, 40, and Jamie, 36, suffer from ulcerative colitis.
The life-changing inflammatory bowel condition caused former Manchester United midfielder Darren Fletcher to take a lengthy break from football.
Alex and wife Jill witnessed how the illness affected their sons’ lives and their subsequent fundraising efforts have inspired McLeish to help continue raising awareness of the disease.
He stated: “I know Derek and the McEwan family well so it’s great to be invited on board as an ambassador and I’m sure it could be more than that along the way.
“I’ll certainly be regarding the Foundation as one of my priorities and I will help the charity as much as possible by promoting it, raising awareness and I will do anything they want me to.
“I’ve had a lot of awards in my career and not a bad football career, winning medals and stuff, but this is right up there with those things in terms of what it means to me.
“It is as important as anything in my working life. It means every bit as much and is something that I will absolutely give everything to 100%.”
McLeish opened up on his sons’ battle with Colitis, admitting: “Jon was the first victim (in 2009), then Jamie (in 2015).
“It seemed to come from nowhere. I could see when they visited us or we visited them how horrible it was.
“Jamie went as far as getting a stoma bag and the thing was, the great technology now means it can be reversible. He did this for what seemed like an eternity.
“I think Darren Fletcher did the same. He is inspirational and my two boys are my inspiration as well. They have come through so much.
“It was painful for Jill and I as parents to watch our sons go through that. When you see them suffer you also feel the emotions and pain. I’m really proud of both Jon and Jamie.”
McLeish is pleased to see awareness has increased in recent years and reckons the work of the Foundation, of people like his sons and professional footballers can only be a positive in removing the stigma about speaking out on suffering from the conditions.
He added: “The way that the illness has come to the fore in recent years is a positive thing in terms of awareness and people have showed you can live with these conditions.
“When I see footballers going through it and they can come out the other side that is inspirational.
“The awareness factor has been really high profile. When you think of Fletcher and (Adam) Lallana, a lot of these guys have been on TV regularly and helped make people aware of it.
“Darren Fletcher missed a few months or maybe a season and to come back to a level that he came back to was quite an amazing feat.
“It’s amazing the amount of people you meet and they tell you that they have a stomach illness, whether Crohn’s and Colitis.
“It’s quite remarkable and I think that hit the nail in the head - people don’t like to talk about it, it’s not like breaking your arm, it’s very private.”
The Catherine McEwan Foundation was established by Catherine’s son Derek, who said: “We are thrilled to welcome Alex to the Foundation as our first ambassador.
“The family are close friends and long-term supporters, part of the Foundation family so when Jon told us his dad would like to help we were blown away.
“Alex is a massive international figure so to have his support means the world to us. He is hugely enthusiastic about working with us and we are very excited and honoured to welcome him to the Foundation family.”
*Alex was introduced to supporters of the charity at a special event at the Radisson RED Glasgow this week – another big ally of the Foundation.