That’s not a Shrimp!

After Leicester I was headed toward what is generally termed as the “South” and the famous Watford Gap and the satellite towns of Milton Keynes and Stevenage.   First up though was Northampton, we had a very frosty response to my visit, with the media representative making lots of excuses of why they couldnt let me in or give me a tour, one excuse being that it was International week and he had to accompany of of his players.

I had to check this was, indeed, Northampton and not anywhere else.  We went back confirming that all I was after was access to the stadium to take pictures and the reply a curt OK.

Still I held out hope the reception would be good when I actually arrived.  I was wrong, the ticket office/reception was shut and unattended, so I had to look through a window and try and attract someones attention. A young lady came out to meet me but rather oddly didn’t greet me until I introduced myself, saying nothing she walked off to open up access to the ground and continued to, say nothing until I asked her a couple questions.  The answers were short and I was beginning to feel quite unwelcome, I took the necessary photos I needed and then thanked them and left.

So, sorry Northampton, you have been the most disappointing club so far.

My host for the next few days was my good friend Kirsty who, as luck would have it, lived right on my walking route bewteen Northampton and Milton Keynes.  Its always good to have a base to leave my bulky pack whilst walking, so a couple of days respite from it was welcome.  I had actually worked in Milton Keynes many many years ago, but it had changed quite a bit as I walked through it.  For a start the concrete cows had been moved indoors to surround a tree that had a shopping centre round it because it couldnt be cut down. Odd really.

My visit to the MK stadium was very pleasant, I am not one of these fans who think they do not deserve to exist, of course what happened to Wimbledon all those years ago now was a very unedifying chapter in English football and, thankfully, is the only time a club has been moved in modern history.  Arsenal started in Woolwich before moving to Highbury, which is the only example of a club moving prior to MK dons being created.

The stadium is another well done newbuild with room for expansion and I was well looked after whilst there. Antoni, who took me round, was very understanding of the controversy of the past but they are a different club and just want to flourish on their own.  I wish them well.   On the way to Stevenage I stayed at a really nice village called Barton Le Clay, which I thought sounded like a Bond villain.

I wasnt due to visit Stevenage until Monday morning which meant I had a spare Sunday, so I took the decision to take advantage of my proximity to London and spend 36 hours relaxing and having a well earned rest.  I stayed with a good friend Cathy in Wapping and on the Sunday I had arranged to meet some friends for Sunday lunch at the Eagle pub on City Road.  It is the one in the tradional nursery rhyme “Pop goes the Weasel”in the lines that go “Up and down the City road, In and out the Eagle. Thats the way the money goes, Pop goes the Weasel”   It was a real tonic to meet up with friends, have some great food and chat, it was just what I needed before the long walks to Peterborough and Norwich.

So, early on the Monday morning I headed back to Stevenage, a club that had hurtled through the divisions and was even making strides to the Championship.
I saw Pompeys match there a couple of years ago in the League Cup and had a great time, they had an excellent support and rarely do you see one to rival Pompey fans.  As usual from clubs like Stevenage who have a great sense of their place in the football world I had a fantastic welcome and was shown round the ground with pride.

I had a 5 day trek to Peterborough ahead of me, passing through Biggleswade and Sandy, St Neots and Huntungdon.  Beautiful countryside, full of arable farmland just waiting for Spring to arrive, lots of farmers were now starting to turn their fields and trim hedges in readyness for the new season.

In Huntingdon I stopped at a small cafe run by some young girls, it was an organic ethically run enterprise and they were all very sweet and very interested in my walk, sadly I lost their details but you should hopefully find them if you are in the area.

I stayed in a B and B in Peterborough before visiting the club, it was run by a dear old lady who I chatted to over Breakfast, she had lost her husband to Cancer and she very generously let me stay for free.  Londo   road has good memories, the first terrace I had stood on in many a year when Pompey played there a couple of years ago, we also won 3-0 with the best performance I had seen a Pompey side give since the Spurs Semi final in 2010, Eric Huseklepp was on fire that day.

Had a great welcome at the Club, they got my flag signed by Darren Ferguson which was a very nice touch.   It was a long trek to Norwich, 5 days walk and first stop was a small village called Whittlesea, I stopped at a real ale pub called the Letter B which was very tidy but again, when I went to pay the landlord, he said I could stay for nothing! Brilliant.

After there I stopped at Elm, south of Wisbech at a place that I was told was Colin Garwoods local, he was a player I saw play for Pompey 35 years ago, it would have been a treat to meet him.

Next was Downham Market which sits next to the Great Ouze river, a lovely little village with a massive Flour works which had obviously been the main trade of the place for centuries. For hundreds of square miles in this part of the country it is mostly arable farming so lots of wheat.  Similar market towns I stayed in were Swaffham and Dereham, combined with the flat terrain and the mild spring weather it was a delightful few days walking.

I arrived in Norwich tired but in good spirits and was surprised by how beautiful some parts of the old town were, it has a hidden Art and Music quarter (when I mean hidden, I really mean unknown to me!) and I enjoyed walking around for a couple of hours.

Next day I had my tour of Carrow Road, a ground I had been to a few times, I only really had one question on my mind, What really happened on the evening that Delia shouted “Let’s be having you!”  It was simple and I expected the answer, a heavy day on the Champage at a function prior to the game.  Fair enough really, I’ve been drunk at games loads of times but thankfully no-one has given me a microphone at half time.

Off to Suffolk and Ipswich then, I had a stay in a farmhouse not far from the Lotus factory on the way and the following evening I made a late decision to spend an evening in London to say goodbye to a friend who was heading off to South Africa after being made redundant, it also gave me the chance to say goodbye to some friends I had worked with at Credit Suisse within Canary Wharf.

I had a great night and thankfully didn’t drink too much as I had an early start back up to Diss to restart my walk.  The route to Ipswich also took me through Stoney Aspel and down the old Ipswich road into Ipswich itself, again this was a town I had been to a few times to see Pompey play and It was one I knew quite well.

Sadly I wasn’t there very long, they let me in to take photos but was not given a tour, a shame because Portman Road is a very characteristic ground.   I had a long walk to Colchester the next day, through the St Marys, the countryside was nice but the weather was cold and grey as I entered Essex.  Colchesters ground is another out of town development which hasn’t worked because the promised developments around it never materialised, it looks isolated and a bit sorry.

Despite that little critique the tour was nice and the staff very kind for my looksee around the place.

Off to the coast next, I was hosted before I left by friends of Pauline who was organising this particular leg and Pauline and her husband took me for a curry at one of their local favourite restaurants, so thanks to everyone for that restful and well fed evening.

The following evening I was staying at an estuary town called Maldon, which was quite picturesque but again the dull weather rather spoilt it when I arrived. Still the B&B I stayed in was run by a lovely old dear and I treated myself to a Chinese evening meal at the shop right across the road.

Couchsurfing is a service I had been recommended I use by my friend Duncan but had shied away from it til now, he had set up a bed for the night in Wickford with a chap called Dan and his housemates, it was a put up bed in the lounge but I was still grateful, especially as they treated me to a sausage and chips for tea.  From Wickford it was a shortish 10 mile stroll to Southend, when I got there the place had plenty of people queueing for Johnstone Paint Trophy Final tickets at Wembley, they had just beaten Leyton Orient to get to the Final.

The Shrimpers Trust had very kindly organised for me to stay in a Hotel for two nights so I had the opportunity to rest and recharge the batteries.

Before I settled into the hotel though I had a chat with the Trust peeps who were helping to organise the coach sales on behalf of the club.  I came back the next morning to be met by Paul from the Trust and Ray who had worked at the club for over 50 years.  He took me round the old ground which could give Fratton Park a run for its money in dereliction, it is no wonder they proudly display the pictures of the new development planned just out of town.  It is supposed to be a Shrimps tail but in the pictures it looks like a sperm!  Following the tour Paul took me to the training groundto meet the players and manager who were getting ready for the match the next day, the players posed for pictures with me and some listened to stories of my Walk so far.  I really enjoyed it, especially the free lunch of pasta, and I thank everyone at Southend United and the Shrimpers Trust for a great day.

Next Blog see’s me enter London for the first part of a two part trip.  If you want to donate please do so at www.justgiving.com/walkthe92

Quick! Get your trousers off!

Onwards into the East Midlands, the route into Derby from Ripley was straightforward and just outside Derby I stopped at a pub called the Queens Head for a drink, I ordered a Coke but along with that the Barman gave me a taster of a local beer once he had heard my story, it was very nice but it might have been a more generous offer to give me a Pint! When I arrived into the centre of Derby I was picked up by Anne-Marie, the wife of a Pompey Fan called Tom who had contacted me via Twitter.

I was staying with him and his family for 2 nights. They kindly put me into a very nice attic bedroom they had refurbished for their eldest son. The following day I walked across the City down to Pride Park to have a look around Derby Countys ground, I was struck by the excellent statues of Clough and Taylor outside, its one of the most impressive tributes to former managers I have seen so far. Pride Park isn’t new ground for me, I have seen Pompey there 3 times, the last visit 2 years ago was one of the weirdest away days I have experienced.

First off in the Brunswick Inn, which is our usual pre match boozer, a chap came in selling badges. Innocent enough you might think except that most of the badges had a decidedly right wing flavour to them and after a few minutes of conversation he started to utter things about “Illegals” and “Pakis”so we impressed on him to leave us alone before we removed him forcibly.

When we got to the game Pompey went down by two goals very quickly which of course caused some Pompey fans a lot aggravation, one chap who was a carer to a disabled supporter sat a few rows in front of us had been berating the Stewards since the kickoff and was getting more and more aggresive, all of a sudden we saw lots of stewards rush to him, not to remove him though but to give him first aid, he had collapsed with what looked like a heart attack and after a lengthy period of treatment he was taken away.

During that furore Pompey conceded another goal and went into half time 3-0 down, obviously we were all feeling pretty fed up and that feeling was compounded when just a few minutes into the 2nd half a person in the row behind us had an epileptic fit which again saw the medics rush into the crowd to help. So after an hour of the game some of us just wanted to head back to the pub and get on the Train out of Derby to call an end to a bizarre day.

Thankfully the tour of Pride Park itself didn’t involve any of that kind of drama. In the evening I was treated to a French/Swiss way of eating called Raclette whereby you heat cheeses (and meats) using a special grill and scrape the melted cheese onto various foods, its a great social way to eat. The following day I walked to Burton upon Trent to attend the match against Barnet the following day, the walk was very pleasant and allowed me to walk several miles alomgside a canal, it was bitterly cold though and the recent snow had made many paths very muddy and slippery.

I had done an interview for the local newspaper in Burton a few days earlier and to my surprise I had been contacted by the Club captain at Burton, Zander Diamond. He offered to put me up but I had arranged only an hour earlier to once again stay with my best pals parents in Newport, which was some way away from Burton but I could commute by train for the match. Zander arranged for me to have two match tickets and access to the Club Lounge, which meant I could take a friend I knew called Aileen who had recently moved back to Burton from Leeds, it would turn out to be an eventful day.

Aileen and I had a couple of pints and some food before heading to the ground and arrived in good time to enjoy a couple more pre-match. We sat at a table and started to talk to a few of the old boys who were sat at our table, I was in the process of trying to get a photo of myself and Aileen with a Burton scarf and after explaining how to use my camera I sat back down. Sadly I caught my pint of Guinness in my Pompey top, probably on one of the badges, and dumped the whole pint in my lap! I was absolutely soaked, my trousers may have been splash proof but struggled badly under the weight of a whole pint. I was horrified and hugely embarrased but everyone was very kind once the laughter had stopped, the bar staff rushed to get me towels and even got me a pair of Burton Albion tracksuit trousers to wear whilst they washed and dried my trousers.

The game ended up a 1-0 win for the home side, the first home win I had seen since Leeds on New Years day, that too was won with a penalty. After the game Zander met me pitch side and we talked for some time before he introduced me to the Manager Gary Rowett for some pictures and for him to sign my flag. I returned to the Club Lounge and collected nearly 50 quid in donations from various Burton fans which was nice, perhaps they thought they owed me for the spillage laughs I gave them.

All in all Burton was a top day out and I would like to thank all the staff there for making my day with them hugely memorable, definately in the top 3 friendliest clubs I have visited so far.

After another relaxing night with the Greens in Newport I was driven back to just north of Burton Albion and I was headed to Shardlow following the route of the River Trent up to Nottingham, I was met at Shardlow by Tom who took me back to Derby again for the night to save me using a B&B.

I continued my way into Nottingham the next day, whilst in the area I was being put up by yet another Pompey fan, Paul Bassett. Just by chance I was at Notts County the same day that they were playing at Fratton Park so before I went to see the “Oldest Professional Club in the World” I stopped in the Trent Navigation just round the corner from the ground and in there were a bunch of County fans waiting for various coaches and buses, their faces were a picture when I took my coat off to reveal my Pompey top. Cries came of “You’re in the wrong place!”and poor girl who arrived after I did took a massive double take when I walked past her to the loo, I heard her say to her mate “Did I just see that?”

I was walking up to the club reception and looking at some of the VIP parking spaces when a lady in a large 4×4 wanted to pull out, I waved her out with a smile and only then realised it was the County Chairwoman. I should have asked for a lift to Fratton Park and back!

The tour of County was good fun, the chap was actually a Crewe fan but had worked at County in the Community dept a number of years, he talked about the lunacy of some of the past few years at County and as a Pompey fan I could sympathise greatly. The tour of Forest the next day was less eventful, again the hospitality at the club was a pleasure and to get to see the two European Cups they have in the Boardroom was a real treat, I have seen Cups, Trophies and all sorts of Awards and I think it is the most beautiful Trophy I have seen and the least likely one I am ever going to get my hands on the real version.

Just as I left they got Jason Lee to sign my flag, I had to fight the urge to sing “He’s got a Pineapple on his head!”, Jason is as bald as a coot these days, probably on purpose.

I left the Bassetts house the next morning and headed to Leicester via Loughborough, I was being put up by another friend who I knew from my time playing an MMO called Lord of the Rings, yes I know, stupidly geeky. Her name was Carol and although I had heard her voice a hundred times we had never met. This walk has thrown friends and strangers at me in equal measure and all have selflessly helped me, it’s been a refeshing change from the normal cynicism of life.

I reached Leicester about 4pm the following day and booked into my Hotel, it wasn’t a bad place but it clearly had a few regulars there and one of them arrived back to his room after midnight and then decided to watch his TV at a stupidly loud volume, I couldnt stand it any longer around 2pm and so went and banged on his door asking him to turn it down, luckily he wasn’t a nutter and did as I asked. I scampered to Radio Leciester early the following morning for an interview in the studio, like the one in Sheffield it was really good fun.

The Leicester City SLO gave me the tour of the Crispbowl on his day off and we talked about Pompey v Leicester clashes of years gone by, he admitted Ian Ormandroyd was offside in the early 1990′s playoff clash, the first time I had heard a Foxes fan say that. I also told him about my Hotel and my interupted sleep, he laughed and told me the place was a well known Prostitute haunt and I was lucky thats all that woke me up. No wonder the owner insisted on cash!

Next time I head further south and teasingly close to London before heading out to East Anglia.

I forgot to give this a title…

The Humber Bridge was just as wobbly and bouncy as the Severn Bridge, I crossed it in wet and windy weather that really wasnt pleasant, with my pack on I feel like a weather vane being thrown this way and that. It was quite scary to be honest, I am not great with heights and kept as close to the road bridge as possible. It was a relief to get to the other side to be honest!

I was being put up in a pub in a village south of the Humber called South Ferriby, its a tiny place but has 4000 years of history attributed to it and has been settled by Roman and Viking invaders through time. I had stopped by a pond to get my barings at the edge of the village when I was approached by a man on a motobility scooter walking two dogs, we got talking and I told him my story of why I was walking the countryside. I detected a familiar burr to the voice and it was only when I told him where I was from he chirpped up “Ah, Pompey fan eh…”and then I recognised the accent. Yes, a scummer. To be fair he said he had fond memories of Fratton Park from visits he made in the 50′s which fans of the two cities used to do. The intense rivalry between Pompey and Southampton is a recent thing according to historians and it wasn’t unusual for fans of either club visit the other instead of a long away trip.

Denis, who was helping me organise this leg, was treating me to dinner along with his partner who had also paid for my place to sleep that night, we drove out to a lovely little pub which had a carvery and with a nice evening of chat another great night with lovely people over we headed back to my digs.

After my appearance on Radio Humberside a few days earlier I was contacted by a lady called Ilona who was famous locally for being a “super scrimper” which I initially thought was to do with Scunthorpe but it turns out she is famous for being thrifty and not a football fan at all. She met me at South Ferriby and we set off past the local cement works and headed out cross country on a slightly longer but scenic route toward Scunthorpe. Ilona was a fascinating character, I heard her life story twice and she had spent most of her life as a truck driver which was amazing because of the size of her, 5ft and a bit and 8 stone.

She runs a Blog that details ways of saving money and living life on a budget. It was grand to have company and my own personal radio station for a few hours…:0) Her Blog is at www.meanqueen-lifeaftermoney.blogspot.com

When we got to Scunny we parted ways and I was then picked up by my host for the night, Martin O’Hara, who I had met at a supporters conference in the summer of 2011. Martin is Deputy Chair of FSF and has been involved in supporters politics for many years, more recently he turned round the Donny Rovers Trust and was acting secretary. Martin is another fascinating fella, like most who give their time freely to fans causes he is tireless and it was a good stop over for me to meet him and also see first hand what the Donny Trust were achieving at their club.

First of all though I was back at Glanford Park the next morning to meet the Iron Trust people led by Luke Thornhill. They are shareholders in Scunthorpe and were handing over another cheque for more shares whilst I was there, during the tour the club donated a signed shirt which I gave to Luke to auction on my behalf. Another friendly small club that were delighted to help me.

Following the visit I had to walk 11 miles towards Doncaster and head for a small village called Thorne where I was staying in a hotel for the night. It was being paid for by an old friend called Donny Wayne who I have known for many years now. Donny joined the Anoraks list which was a Pompey Fans internet forum that was started in 1997 by Jamie Kinnea at Birmingham using the University server, it brought Pomey Fans home and abroad together for the first time together to discuss Pompey and hundreds of friendships have been formed from its creation, even weddings and babies!

A member of the Donny Rovers Trust, Lee Croft, joined me on the road from Thorne into Doncaster and it again made for an interesting walk having company and being able to discuss issues that effect Trusts and share experiences. We did the walk in less than 4 hours and passed the old Belle Vue ground which is still a derelict site waiting for redevelopment, you can see why the club is thriving with a brand new ground in picturesque surroundings, the old one was a right hole. Martin met us there and we enjoyed a good look around and more nattering about Trust business as well as a well earned cup of tea and some cake!

Donny Trust work closely with the club and have started an initiative called “In Rovers we Trust” which came from working with a chap called Mark Bradley who runs a consultancy firm on Fan Engagement, (I will talk more about Mark when I write about my trip to Sheffield Wednesday) they claim to have transformed how the club deal with the Fans inside 12 months, although it helps to have a Chairman that is keen to work with fans and Rovers certainly have that in John Ryan. He recently interviewed an 8 year old fan for the vacant managers job, which was a great story and showed him and Rovers in a very positive light.

Whilst in Doncaster I was being given refuge by a friend who had recently moved up there to work called Pete who I knew from my time in London, another Pompey exile. On the Friday night we adjourned to the local pub and polished off a few pints and some food and put the world to rights, we also briefly fell into conversation with a Glaswegian who asked about my badges on my Pompey top. A Rangers supporters so you can imagjne he was not at all happy about his clubs recent fortunes and the state of football north of the border.

Back at Petes we also drank a bottle of wine which did me no good at all the next day, it was a good job I had no walking to do! The next day was a huge slob day, Pete and I chilled out and tried to watch the Premier League games online and then got a take away for the evening, all in all a great way to spend a Saturday. I had a walk of 11 miles on the Sunday to a place called Goldthorpe on the way to Barnsley, its fair to say it had seen better days and much of it had been levelled, infact it reminded me of one of those French villages in a WW2 film when the only thing left standing was a Church with a sniper in it.

I got picked up by Donny Wayne and his wife Eileen who were treating me to a Sunday roast, we went to a country pub in Mexborough which was Waynes old home town, it was a nice end to a great weekend, I am lucky in the friends I have.

Next day I picked up from Goldthorpe to finish the walk into Barnsley, the weather was beginning to turn and I arrived in snow flurries, I was being met by Ray who was involved in the Barnsley Trust, he was very kindly putting me up in a local hotel whilst I stayed there. The tour of Oakwell was very interesting, not least because my guide tried to take me to parts of the old stand that had recently been boarded up, we spent 10 minutes trying to find a door that was not there anymore! In the evening Bradford were playing Oxford in the Youth cup, the game was almost called off due to the icy conditions but the ground is 90% sand which means that drainage is good and frost not a problem.

Bradford won 3-1 and I was very impressed with the organisation of the side and a few of their players, it was bitterly cold but having a Chicken Balti Pie and a couple of Bovrils soon helped with that. A perfect way to spend an evening!

Next Blog we finish Leg 5 in Sheffield and onto a snowy Leg 6

On and On into 2013….Over half way.

Only one day off and I’m back on the road, whilst most people were struggling with hangovers and cranberry sauce poisoning I was headed toward Bradford and the half way point. For the next two nights I was being hosted by Charles Jenkins, a Trust member and all round good guy who lives near Ilkley, he was also joining me on the 2nd day and the walk into Bradford itself. On Boxing day I walked from Ripley to a village called Beckwithshaw where Charles picked me up and then returned me the next morning. Luckily I didn’t have my pack because once I’d reached a place called Pool it the road ascended a muderously steep bank whilst it climbed up to a plateau where the Leeds-Bradford airport was sited, the highest in the UK. No shit says I, the climb almost bloody killed me.

Charles and I walked into Bradford when he joined me near a place called little London and after the horrible climb at Pool I was greatful that the majority of the next few miles were downhill apart from one long climb into Bradford itself, it had been a long day but having company for part of the journey always helps.

I had a fab tour of Bradford and as you would expect prior to their League Cup semi final against Aston Villa and the ticket queue for their home leg was long with lots of smiley faces in it even at 10 in the morning. Mike Thompson of the Bradford City Trust took me round the club and also escorted me into town to look at the Bradford fire memorial that had been donated by the twin German town of Hamm, it was a beautiful piece set in the new town square.

I tackled the two large climbs to Huddersfield that afternoon and arrived at my guest house digs just before 4pm, they were kindly being provided by Robert Pepper who is involved in the Terriers fan organisations and also very active in Supporters Direct. The match the following day saw Huddersfield vs Sheffield Weds and Robert picked me up to take me to the Gas Club to meet some colleagues of his and have a pre match pint. One Terrier fan I met was actor Reece Dinsdale who wished me well and subsequently also made a donation, we picked up our tickets and I was able to go pitch side and take some photos before the game, it was a poor 0-0 draw in the end livened up only by several smoke bombs let off by the Wednesday fans.

That evening Robert took me to a local country pub for dinner and we discussed Trust work and the state of SD and some of the findings of my walk and talks with many Trusts around the country.

And so, to end the year of 2012 I was headed to Leeds where I would spend New Years Eve in a Hotel near Elland Road, for the first time in days I had a walk that was fairly flat and I was very grateful for that, it took about 5 hours and I was safely holed up in my hotel base for the next three days. The following day I met a chap called Paul from the LUFC Trust who took the tour of Elland Road with me, he had good memories of Pompey having worked there many years ago for the church. He lived above the Shepherds Crook!

Elland Road is a big old stadium, it features something that is unusual so far on my walk, a statue that has been coloured in, the Billy Bremner tribute looks very odd to me with its rusty white kit and bright orange hair and a tatty scarf hanging from one arm. It was another new ground for me though and I would be back the next day to see Leeds take on Bolton, the third time I had seen the Lancashire club.

Leeds had kindly put me on an tour on New Years day but I decided a lie in would be better for me as I was feeling really jaded the last few days. I briefly met Paul and his son before I collected my ticket and headed in, it was right behind the dugout so I had a great view of Colin Wanker as he did his nut on a regular basis. Leeds were very fortunate to pull off a single goal win from a soft penalty but it meant that I had finally seen a home win on my travels.

A two day trek to York awaited me as my first bout of walking in 2013, I had a stop in Tadcaster overnight first, it is the home of a few breweries, notably John Smiths and Sam Smiths, the latter being a particular favourite of mine for their excellent stout. I stayed in a Sam Smiths hotel which was really the only place to stay in this picturesque town.

I was pleased that York had won the playoffs from the Confence, they were a Trust invovled club and the alternative was Luton and with all due respect a day spent walking through the historic city of York had to be miles better. I wasn’t disappointed, the City is steeped with thousands of years of history and the Minster has to be seen to believed, it is huge!

Once again a complete stranger was helping me in York, Stuart and his girlfriend Chloe were putting me up for a couple of nights, Stuart being a friend of my mate Duncan who he met on an overseas Cricket tour. We both went to York city the following morning and were quite disappointed with the reception we had got, I had already been told on the phone a whole list of things the club couldnt do for me but I expected a slightly better attitude when I arrived. I was in and out in 20mins with the groundsman taking us in to the ground to take some pictures. For a Trust based club and looking to involve the community the reception for me was the poorest so far, which is a shame.

Still, I saw much more of York on my way out that afternoon onto a place called Pocklington to cut down the miles I had to walk the following two days to my next club destination of Hull City. The countryside north of the Humber was very picturesque and the weather was cold and crisp in the Sunday I arrived at West Park and the KC Stadium, I was pleasantly surprised by a chap who stopped me as I arrived, he had passed me on the road and had also heard me on Radio Humberside a couple of days before. I was eventually met by Chris from the Hull City Official Supporters club who were looking after me for the next couple of days, he took me to the hotel a few miles out of town they had laid on.

He picked me up the next morning to visit the KC and I was given a great tour by the staff there, the Hull OSC have a really good relationship with the club and despite not being a Trust they seek to help the club treat their fans better and it seems to be working.

Next Blog will see me cross the Humber Bridge and back into Yorkshire. Bye for now.

Away in a manger…..

The weather the next day for the walk to Middlesboro was equally as grim as the previous day so the 8 mile Walk past the huge industrial park that is in the Wear was a real grind, the only saving grace was using the Transporter Bridge to cross into the City itself. I had previously wanted to use the one at Port Talbot, but it was closed on the Sunday I was there, which was quite annoying as I wasted an hour walking to it. I was told by some Boro fans on Twitter that a good cheap place to stay just off the Town Centre called the Princess Alice, i found it and talked to the Landlord who was kind enough to let me have a room for only a tenner a night, which was very generous. Once I had dried out and changed my clothes, I set off to the Riverside stadium in order to get my tour of Boro, its not too far a walk from the Town which is rather unusual for a new build of this size. Alongside the Stadium is the huge £2.7m Temenos art structure by Anish Kapoor which is very impressive, except when I spoke to the locals about it, none of them could tell me what it was! It clearly hadnt made an impression on them.

The Boro tour was given to me by the receptionist, who was very enthusiastic but we had to rush through as it was late on a Friday afternoon, still Club 45 was done and dusted.

I had a spare day the next day and it was a day I had been looking forward to for a while, Portsmouth were scheduled to play at Hartlepool and it was planned to be a day I would meet up again with a lot of mates and enjoy watching Pompey lose after a few beers. Trouble was the weather I had endured the last couple of days had put the match in danger of being called off, there was a planned pitch inspection at 8am so I set my alarm for 8am and kept my eye on Twitter to see what the decision was. It had only started raining again about 7am but it was set to last all day, the ref looked at the pitch and decided to check again at 9am, but I think everyone knew what the decision would be and eventually the ref called it off. Two friends Duncan and Deano had already left London on the train and they were searching the Internet to find a game on in the North East, as the rain came down matches were continuing to be called off, but Duncan found out that Durham AFC had an artificial pitch and they were playing at home, so I jumped on a train to Durham to meet them there.

We had a march around town having a whistle’stop tour of the place and a few pints on the way before jumping in a cab to Durham AFC for the match. It was still teeming down when we arrived so we were looking for somewhere dry and warm to watch the match, as we walked along the main stand, well the only stand, we saw a hospitality suite with a couple of people in it. Duncan started to tap on the window and point to his Pompey badge before then shouting through the window for us to be allowed in. With his usual charm and tact employed, we were ushered in to explain why we were there, we met the Chairman who was delighted to have us and we were treated really well with free booze and food! Durham romped to a 4-0 win as well in what was a pretty good match, so all in all a day that started with disappointment when the Pompey match was called off was turned into a cracking day at Durham AFC.

I was quite drunk when I got back to my Hotel room which didnt bode well for the walk the next day. I was heading for Northallerton before settling in on Christmas Eve in Ripon. A friend from Portsmouth, Jake Payne, was staying with In-Laws at Yarm and I was passing near to that on my route, so I dropped him a text message to see if he could meet me for a quick drink late morning. I didnt get a reply because his phone was off until well past lunchtime and I had already walked miles past Yarm even though the wind was pretty strong and set against me slowing me down. We agreed to meet in my digs in Northallerton and that evening he and his bro-in-law who was a Boro fan gave me some company and bought me a couple of pints. Jake has been involved in Pompey for many years now and is the main orgainser of the Hall of Fame annual dinners and awards, he told me some stories of life at Pompey recently that only served to highlight just how bad things had gotten at Fratton.

On Christmas Eve I trudged the 17miles to Ripon and to my resting place for the next two nights. I was staying in converted stables out the back of an Inn! I couldn’t think of a better place to stay over Christmas and I was delighted when the landlord handed me 3 Christmas Card and a Present! How lucky was I, friends had gambled on the post getting them there on time and for once Royal Mail delivered on time and didnt let anyone down.

I wandered up to the local supermarket and bought some goodies for the next day, Nuts, Cheese and Crackers and a healthy supply of chocolates, not forgetting also my Christmas Dinner which was Prawn sandwiches for starters and Turkey and Stuffing for main course. As conventional as I could make it.

On Christmas Day itself I ignored breakfast in return for a well overdue lie in, the present was opened and it contained a very nice range of chocolate liquers, yum! I had a lot of chocolate to get through the next few days, good job I was going to walk it off. Around lunchtime I went for a walk around Ripon, it was very quiet and peaceful and a lovely town, that peace was punctuated by some phone calls from friends wishing me a Happy Christmas, one even from as far away as Thailand, and along with the many Text and Tweet messages of support and goodwill I felt far from lonely. I had to admit the build up to Christmas had hit me hard, the realisation that I would be alone on Christmas Day had led me to have a few days of despair but I ended up being overwhlemed at just how many people we thinking of me.

It was an unusual Christmas, but a good one. Thanks to everyone who made contact over Christmas, I was touched by it. I walk on with hope in my heart because of you all.

You really can’t take Coals to Newcastle

The walk across Hadrians Wall was always going to be one of my favourite parts of this journey, its a part of the country I had never visited apart from a few visits to the North East which usualoy involved cious ampunts of alcohol and very little sight seeing. I left Carlisle and first made a shortish journey up the A69 to Brampton which is the first stop on the Wall trail which would stretch for the next 50 or so miles til I reached Newcastle. Its only when I arrived I realised I hadn’t actually organised any accomodation so I sat in the Howard Arms and contemplated what to do, as luck would have it the place was also a Hotel and the rate was reasonable so I checked in. I was given the Fagin room and quickly realised the Hotels connection with Charles Dickens, he was said to have stayed there a night or two on a trip and he also being a son of Portsmouth I felt honoured to have stayed in the same place.

From Brampton I was headed to Haltwhistle and first had to walk along the A69 again until i could get off at Low Row and follow what I thought was the line of the Wall but I didnt see any evidence until I reached the village of Gilsland where the Wall itself runs right through the village and I stopped for a well earned breather on a section of the still standing stone wall. Its amazing to see it still so well preserved 1800 years after it was built so I draped my flag across it and took a picture to commemorate the most northerly part of England I would visit. Haltwhistle calls itself the Centre of Britain, I am not sure if geographically that is correct or not but it was another landmark on my Walk as I had also walked through the Centre of England too.

I faced a tough stretch the next day again along the route of the A69 but I could use a parallel road until I hit Bardon Mill and then turned North and hit a climb up to a road called the Stanegate, for about a mile it was just about the steepest climb I had attempted to date and the weather got steadily worse as the morning passed, drizzle and mist turned into a heavy downpour and the higher I went the porer the visibility got, down to around 50 yards. It was a shame because below me was a complete Roman Fort called Vindolanda, except it was almost completely obscured and I couldnt take any photos as I wanted to. The last 3 miles to my digs in Newbrough was made a bit lighter because I met a fellow walker who was a local, he virtually talked my ears off but it was nice to have some company for the final stretch.

The following day I hit the Military Road proper and that was to take me up a couple more steep banks to the highest point in Northumberland, the views were again spectacular and it seemed to me I was on the top of Britain! the descent was hilly but I could tell I was coming down from the highest point in my Hadrian walk and I trudged on to my last stop before Newcastle, the Robin Hood Inn.

I had a couple more climbs to negotiate before the blessed relief of the descent into Newcastle, I was staying in a Hotel to the West of the Toon and if im honest it was more of a doss house really, the room I was given was nice enough but it was placed on the ground floor by the Fire Exit that was used as a smoking area and also the stairs to the first floor, so there was constant noise. I awoke the next day pretty grumpy ahead of my visit to St James Park, I was meeting a chap from the NUFC Trust called Tony who had been a touch nervous about me inviting him on the Tour of the stadium with me, the relatioinship between the club and the Trust, as always, has been fractious. We were given the tour by Bob, whoh pad worked at Newcastle in various jobs throu various ragimes and eras, if he didnt know it, it wasnt worth knowing. He was once Sir Bobby Robsons chauffeur and looked after the great man whenever he came to SJP in his twilight years. The stadium is very imprssive, only the Emirates, Etihad and Old Trafford have a larger capacity, on a matchday they serve over 4,000 silver service dinners and employ 70 chefs! A huge operation.

Next to SJP there is an open cast mine where the old Brown Ale factory once stood, when it had been demolished they found a seam of coal. So, even in this day and age, you still shouldnt take Coals to Newcastle! Following the tour Tony and I had a chat about Trust stuff and I walked along the south side of the Tyne to make my way to the Stadium of Light and Sunderland.

After another sleepless night at Hotel de Doss I took the Metro to the SOL and met a lovely chap called Chris Waters, he is the Supporters Liaison Officer at Sunderland and as the SLO role is something I am very interested in it was a pleasure to chat to him about the role as he took me round the Stadium. Being a bit of a thicky I had never made the comnection with the Stadiums name and the areas Mining heritage, the light of course being a Miners Lamp. Feel free to point and laugh at me if you ever come across me on my travels. Chris was very enthusaistic in meeting me and learn about my travels so far, it has always been fun to meet someone at a club I am visiting that takes the time to ask real questions and listen to the answers.

Both North East clubs had been a joy to visit, the Premiership clubs are certainly surprising me with their support, with one exception of course.

Next stop was Hartlepool, the weather was vicious on the way down the North Sea coast which was to be expected. Before i went to Hartlepool though I had a detour to make and complete a personal pilgrimage to a place called Castle Eden which is where my Grandfather on my Mothers side was born over 80 years ago. Nowadays the village is right by the A19 and the railway line that the cottages were named after was probably a casualty of Dr Beeching in the 1960′s but it was nice to stand and look at the family house of Arthur Reid.

I found a nice cheap B&B in Hartlepool for two nights but the weather continued to be really foul and when I went to Hartlepool the next day the wind and rain continued to get worse. I was shown round by the groundsman Ian who, despite the rain to come was confident that the game on Saturday would go ahead. I was pleased about that because the game in question was against Portsmouth!

I also met the CE Russ Green who was a larger than life character and we spent a good 90 mins talking about football and in general despairing about the modern game and its excesses. I was going to look around the area but the weather was absolutely brutal by now so I retreated to my digs for the day once I had eaten lunch.

The next update will cover a trip off the route and a unique Christmas. Bye for now!

Jump!

And so began probably the toughest stretch up past the Lakes and into Cumbria to Carlisle and then across Hadrians Wall through Northumberland and ending up in the North East to start the long hike South.

I left Carnforth to head to the first stop which was Kendal, 15 miles away. The terrain got gradually sparser as I headed North up the Scotland Road or the A6 as its normally called. It was a fairly non-descript journey until I hit Milnthorpe and then the scenery to my left started to become more and more beautiful as I entered the Lakes area. I was meeting a chap called John who was putting me up in the Lakes once I had reached Kendal, he lived near Windermere at a place called Bowness which is a tourist town full of Hotels and shops for those holidaying in the area. He picked me up from a pub I found that was open, even at 4pm all of the bars in town weren’t open yet which was very odd, he took me back to his amazing house and I washed and changed. We met some’of his mates in a bar in town and he treated me to some dinner, the long walk had given me a ravenous appetite and the Carbonara I ordered went down in a matter of minutes. Adding to that was 2 1/2 pints of Guinness and I was done for the day, at 9pm on a Friday night, this walking lark certainly ruins the party animal in you.

We left Bowness very early the following morning and it was a dream of a morning, we stoppped by the Lake in Windemere in order to take some photos, it was so clear and still and gave me a good start to the day and set me up for what was going to be a difficult climb up to my stop that evening in Shap.

It had snowed just a couple of days before up on the mountains and hills of the Lake District and I was worried that once I had reached the heights of the Shap pass it would be very icy, not the kind of thing you need when you are carrying a vrey heavy pack up inclines. Luckily most of the ice had turned into slush apart from a few patches here and there and with the weather being kind to me it was a really lovely walk, the views of the mountain peaks covered with snow was a real treat. I stayed in a lovely pub called the Greyhound which was being paid for by a very kind friend of Johns, called Paul, who was also standing me a night in a place at Penrith.

I was hoping once I reached Shap it would be all downhill the next day but I was wrong, there was one section of the road that dipped down toward a river crossing and then rose again, it was a painful struggle to get back up again because it was a steep winding climb the like of which I hadn’t encountered since Devon. It was a lovely day again though so the option of stopping regularly to admire the views and catch a breather was taken quite a lot!

I dragged myself into Penrith that evening and checked into my digs for the evening with a ravenous appetite, I looked around the town of Penrith and found, down some dingy alleyway, a fantastic chippy so, even though it was a Sunday night, I had a slap up Fish and Chip dinner. Carlisle was the next stop and that was half way in this particulalry difficult section of the Walk, before I left Penrith I had a look around the Castle whivh was the one time home of Richard, Duke of Gloucester who later became Richard III. Of course the bones of Richard III have just recently been identified and found in Leicester, even despite the constant threat of raids, I’m sure Richard would have preferred to have been found in Cumbria.

Penrith to Carlisle was thankfully a far flatter and straighter journey and when I finally reached he most northerly city on my Walk I was quite disappointed that the welvome sign was so small, not sure what I was expecting really, something along the lines of the Welcome to Las Vegas sign would have been nice, but no it was a tiny sign saying “Carlisle”, I had my picture taken by it anyway.

I don’t know if you remember but several years ago Carlisle United was flooded and the ground was several feet under water, when I visited the following day the subject of weather came up and they showed me the pictures from that day, it was amazing to see a football ground full with water, happily they have installed flood defenses along the river that flooded so it shouldnt happen again. They are looking to move nonetheless and I dont blame them. I have actually visited Brunton Park before, 3 years ago when Pompey were still in the Premiership, we played Carlisle in the League Cup and I caught a train from London around 3pm that was due in 5 mins after kick off, which was a small price to pay for a cheaper fare and no need for a day off work. Sadly the train was held up just outsode Wigan North due to someone threatening to jump off a bridge, one drunken Scotsman was getting mmore upset the longer we didnt move and fell out with his wife when he exclaimed “Let the bastard jump so we can get home!”. We were delayed by around 45 mins so once I arrived at Carlisle I dashed to the ground in a taxi and arrived just as the referee blew for the end of the first half. Quite a few mates were getting the overnight train home at around 1.30am, so I had made a 14 hour round trip to spend less than 5 hours in the town.

This time I spent more time looking around the town following my visit to the club, after all it had taken me 3 1/2 months to get there, and I also took the train to Gretna Green to look around the famous eloping town for an hour, who knew it was all down to an Anvil?

My next update will be just after Christmas so I would like to wish all my followers and blog readers a very Merry Christmas, personally I shall be in Ripon hopefully enjoying the company of any of the locals of the White Horse who will talk to me.

Have a cool Yule!

Bring me sunshine, all the while….

Leaving Blackburn and looking at the West Coast clubs I was heading towards made me think that I would soon be at the most northerly point and facing some of the toughest but interesting areas in the Lake District and also along Hadrians Wall. But first up was Preston North End and a ground I had visited before. I arrived on the Sunday afternoon and it was pretty icy but that made the famous statue of Tom Finney, which is called “The Splash”, look all the more impressive.

The following morning I returned and was given a tour by a lovely chap from their community dept and I was very impressed with Deepdale, the way the 4 stands have been developed makes for a very neat and compact stadium which can generate a lot of noise, something that again we at Fratton Park could learn from if we ever get the chance to rebuild it. Before I left they got the Chairman, Peter Ridsdale, to sign my flag which I was amused by given his record with football clubs. Immediately leaving PNE I was heading to Blackpool which was a fair old trek in the 4 hours of daylight I had left, but if you we going to arrive anywhere at night then I suppose Blackpool is the place to do it.

I was staying in the exoticly named Aloha Hotel which was on the seafront just north of the North Pier, when I arrived after taking in some of the illuminations I was quite shocked to see just how un-Hawian the place was! Seeing the prices of some of the better Hotels I think I made a bad decision, still I wasnt staying in the place longer than needed seeing as there was plenty to do in Blackpool, well’as much as you can do out of season. Bloomfield Road is another new ground, another historic one too, that greats like Armfield and Matthews graced post war in that golden age of English Football. I didnt realise it was so close to the Sea, it must have seen some cold games over the years. Its now a tidy ground with corporate development around it including a Hotel, it doesn’t much resemble a Football Ground from close up but then a lot of modern redevelopments don’t. Blackpool donated a signed shirt for auction so I got that sent to Prostate Cancer to get some money for it through their own auction site. Fingers crossed it gets a few quid.

A stroll up the coast to Fleetwood followed my visit to Bloomfield Road, its about 5 miles between each of the grounds so I decided to do it that afternoon without a pack to weigh me down, it was a fun walk, the coast is really beautiful even with a high wind and a raging sea. I got the tram back south to Blackpool and took a trip up the Tower to admire the view, tyey have installed a glass plate at the top, which allows you to stand on nothing and look down. I am far from comfortable at heights so I watched others walk out and enjoy the view through the floor, whilst I hung onto a pillar and tried to take photos. In the evening I took the Tram right down to the South of the Pleasure Beach and walked the mile back to the North pier taking in all the illuminations, it was eerily quiet though out of season znd reminded me of Southsea in the depths of Winter as a kid.

Fleetwood Town have had a meteoric rise to the Football League backed by a local Fan who has backed their climb from local league football to the Professional game. They play at Highbury, which is now the only League ground called that since Arsenal left for the Emirates and it is dominated by one large new stand which houses the offices for the club. I mentioned I hadnt had any breakfast after leaving my crap hotel and they gave me a full english and after meeting one of the players they presented me with a Fleetwood Hat and Scarf, which was a nice touch as I headed to the frozen north. A friendly club and I wish them well.

Last of the coastal clubs was Morecambe, which was a short boat trip and then a long walk through Lancaster. I stayed in a nice little Morecambe B&B that evening and treated myself to some quality fish and chips for tea. My time at the club was great fun, I spent time with the manager and many of the team and took lots of photos, many of the staff there seemed genuinely interested in what i was doing and also the enormity of the Walk.

I left Morecambe and headed out up the seafront in a gale and heavy rain which was a shame, because I wanted to enjoy the Eric Morcambe statue, but the weather was so foul that even the sight of Eric couldnt brighten the atmosphere. I was headed to a place called Carnforth which was the first stop on my trek up past the lakes, Carnforth is famous for being the place that the film “Brief Encounter” was shot, it was a love story about a couple that met in a Rail Station cafe and in tribute I stayed in the Carnfoth Station Hotel. I was surprised that the owners of the hotel weren’t maing much of the link really, perhaps because they were redecorating. The Station itself has a museum which was interesting to look around, I vaguely remember seeing the film when I was young and marvelled at the dialog, they don’t make films like that any more.

Next update details my trek up the Lakes and walk across Hadrians wall toward Newcastle. See you then.

It’s not grim up North

Following the evening of emotion and culture at St Georges hall in the evening, the next morning I headed to Goodison to take the tour of the place in the company of a delightful lady called Carena. She was a pcoket dynamo of a girl with a charming scouse accent and her friendly excitement in showing me around contrasted to the slightly frosty reception I had received at Anfield. Everton call themsleves the Peoples club and that shone through. During the tour I met the kitman and he gave me an armful of energy drinks and also a Phil Neville shirt which I decided to give to Ian for his hospitality.

Afterward Roy from SOS got in touch again, he had been onto Liverpool and had secured some complimentary tickets for the Europa Cup match at Anfield that evening against Young Boys of Berne. They ended up being in the Press Box area so included a free hot buffet and half time soup, very nice indeed on a very cold evening, Liverpool had redeemed themselves somewhat. I was disappointed with the home crowd and the Kop but the Berne fans were raucous and at one point unveiled a baner with a message of support for the Hillsborough Families which brought a standing ovation from all sides of the ground. The game was quite open and featured a young Liverpool side who played well in patches but struggled to keep posession, it was clear that to win the game the big guns would have to come off the bench so on came Gerrard and Suarez to help push the home side into a 2-1 lead but Young Boys came back once Liverpool had taken their foot offf the gas and got a deserved late equaliser. What was really fun to see and very unusual was the Young Boys players all went over to their travelling support and celebrated with them performing some rehearsed routines, you could never imagine any British team doing that.

I walked away from Anfield with Roy to meet my hosts at the Irish Centre not far from the ground, they were deep’into a quiz when i arrived and when it finished the bar had a whip round to raise money for my cause which was very kind of them, especially as I was no help at the quiz.

Tranmere was next on the club list and whilst I was taking some pictures around the ground the team was training on the pitch, I spent 15 mins watching the manager taking them through some game situations and it was great to have an insight into what a training session was like for a pro team. Tranmere looked well drilled and are leading League 1 as I write and when they face Pompey at the weekend I think it may well be very tough for them to get any kind of result.

Following my visit to Prenton Park on the friday I had to walk back to the ferry and begin my walk to Blackburn, I was headed to Goodison to give myself a starting point to go from on the folowing Sunday, the reason being was that 3 very good friends of mine Paul, Jim and Alan were coming from Portsmouth to spend some time with me, I hadnt seen them for some time so it was great they were coming all this way for a couple of days of fun in Liverpool. Much to our amusement Paul had been in charge of booking the Hotel and he had struggled to find somewhere in the City centre so had booked something that described itself as being 20 mins from the City centre was at least 40 by train at a place called Eastham Rake. Chester was nearer.

On the second night out Jim had bullied us into playing spoof at regular intervals, a game where each person holds up to 3 coins in there hands and each person has to guess the total number held by the group, if someone guessed correctly they we out and the rest played in, the loser had to submit to a forfeit that was decided by the first person out. As the alcohol flowed the demands got more and more outrageous and I got stung for one round of 4 drinks that cost 26 quid! I was tasked with buying 4 double whiskeys and the always helpful Paul suggested I get one particular whiskey, I didnt realise it was not on the discount list so when the waitress told me the price I swore at him quite a few times! It was still great fun to see my best friends and a real boost to my morale as I headed towards a very tough Winter in the north.

I had to head back to Lancashire to sweep up the 3 clubs that are just a few miles from each other north of Manchester and first up was Blackburn, before I got there I headed through Chorley and Malc once again came to my rescue and took me to stay on his sofa in Bolton to save me paying for a night in a b and b, he is turning out to be one of the most valuable people I have met on this walk in terms of getting me help.

The Rovers Trust had arranged for me to stay in a Hotel opposite Ewood Park called the Fernhurst for 2 nights and on the Wednesday I visited the club for a tour and photos and received a complimentary ticket to that evenings game against Bolton. I had seen 4 score draws so far as a guest of clubs so when Bolton took a very early lead I assured the Rovers fans around me thzt they would equalise. I was wrong as Bolton ran out fairly easy 2-1 winners and the fans around me were not happy because they had jot seen a win in some games. Afterward I went to the Blues bar to quickly meet Claire and Dawn from the Trust and we discussed how they were doing and I gave them as much advice as I could give based on my experiences of when the Pompey Trust started. Its fair to say they harve a tricky job on their hands not just with the club but with fellow fans, I wish them every success in securing the future of their club.

Just up the road are Accrington Stanley, a club that were reformed in 1968 which makes them the same age as myself and of course if you are also as old as me you will remember the milk advert that made them famous in modern times. It involved two scouse kids discussing the merits of drinking milk with one saying “My dad says if you dont drink milk you’ll only be good enough to play for Accrington Stanley”, his pal replies “Who are they?” with the final reply being “Exactly!”. Stanley were very good to me and bought me lunch before I finished my days walking arriving in Burnley that afternoon.

I was being hosted in Burnley by Steve and his wife Nic, they actually lived in a place called Heptonstall which is next to Hebdon Bridge. on the borders of Lancashire and Yorkshire. A stunningly picturesque village set in some of the most beautiful countryside it was a pleasure to spend some time there. The first evening we went to the local pub which had a quiz night and we were joined by several fellow quizzers that included a Film Producer, Actor, Musician and a set designer! We won quite handsomely and I wasnt a weak link with my knowledge of daytime TV and Sport coming up trumps. The Landlord fnd out about my guest visit and made me speak to the pub who then had a whip round for my cause, it was hugely generous so I must say a big thanks to all at the Cross pub in Heptonstall.

After visiting Burnley the next day Steve gave me a tour of the area and I saw more of the stunning scenery around Hebdon Bridge, it was a real treat and set me up for my walkback through North Lancashire. Talking of that I had another really nice surprise on my walk back through Blackburn, a couple I had met through the Rovers Trust Claire and Tris were lending me their house for an evening, even though they werent there! Plus I got taken out to Frankie and Bennys for pasta by Dawn and Simon from the Rovers Trust so I cant thank them all enough for their support over the days I was there.

So, after my visit to the West Coast I face the toughest part of my trip to Carlisle and Newcastle, lets hope the weather is as kind as the people up here!

Speaking Truth To Power

And so back to Bolton. I was again at a club on a matchday so they were playing a game against Barnsley game who had brought a fair few raucous fans. The club had kindly given me a ticket and took some photos prior to kick off but my Pompey Pal in Bolton had found a contact that had a Box for the game. So, once I had done the photo ops with thir keeper Bogdan and the club mascot, whilst avoiding some odd toast shaped mascot, I got taken up to the Box to join my hosts and watch the game.

Now it was really nice to be invited into a Box to enjoy some nosh but I can safely say its not the way I like to watch a football match, give me standing and singing any day. The gallows humour of the Bolton fans I was sitting with was entertaining though, even if the 1-1 draw wasn’t. A shoutout to the Barnsley fans who were noisy throughout despite some over officious stewarding who enforced standing but only with the odd kid.

Heroes to a man.

The following day I was joined again by the Barretts who walked with me from the Reebok to Wigan, it was only a few miles but it was nice to have some company again and we were blessed with a lovely sunny day again. When I arrived I was greeted by Dawn and her active son Keegan who asked a lot of questions, some of them even relevant to my walk. They lived some miles from Wigan and they treated me to Sunday dinner. Keegan gave me some sweets, which was very kind of him, well I thought so until I was told he hated them because they were too tough for his teeth!

The tour of the DW was fun, another new ground ticked off, and after that I headed towards merseyside via St Helens and Prescot, unbeknownst to me a Pompey fan called Dave Sargent who I had got in touch with via Twitter lives just a mile or two from Prescot so he met me for a pint and kindly gave me a lift to my digs for the night. Top fella that Dave is he also picked me up the following morning and bought me breakfast at his favourite cafe in Prescot, chers Dave!

My walk into merseyside took me into a place that I didnt even know existed outisde of one mans imagination and that was Knotty Ash, there were no reported sightings of Diddy Men or Tickling sticks which was a shame. Nor any tax men either.

I took a long route to Anfield and Stanley Park through Queens Drive and was quite excited when I walked past the sign saying Anfield borough, being locked in terrace housing, some of which is being knocked down and regenerated, Anfield the ground suddenly looms up at you out of nowhere it seems and has the power to enchant. I grew up with Liverpool dominating football in the 70′s and 80′s so this was a ground I was very much looking forward to visiting having never managed to come to watch Pompey over the years. I walked around the ground taking some pictures and chatting to some security staff and then heased across Stanley Park to walk to Goodison Park, the home of Everton.

I timed it at a leisurely 9 minute stroll between the two grounds. Notts County and Nottingham Forest may be closer, but there is a river between them, I will have to wait until I get there to time the walk to see who is the winner.

My hosts for the next 3 days were Ian and Shirley who lived on the Wirrel side of the river in a beautiful house with great views across the Mersey to Liverpool in a place called New Brighton. Ian is a staunch Evertonian and they were great hosts for my time there, it is a real pleasure to know that I have a base and can spend as much time as possible exploring an area or City such as Liverpool. I jumped on the train to New Brighton and was picked up from the station to settle in for the evening. The following morning I took the train and bus back to Anfield to participate in my visit, whrn I arrievd at reception though the was confusion about what was happening, no one seemed to know I was arriving! It transpired that the person that Sue had been liaising with had left the employ of LFC and my arrival arragements had fallen through the cracks, a bit of a shame but no big deal. They arranged to put me on a tour which unfortunately didn’t take in any of the interior of the ground because the TV cameras were being put up for the Europa Cup game the following night. It was very disappointing not to see the famous “This is Anfield” sign but I suppose it couldn’t be helped.

I walked back into town to complete the walk to Tranmere that afternon and a mooch around the town centre took me towards the famous Liver building and the Ferry (a)cross the Mersey. It was a gorgeous day, bright sunshine but very chilly, and it was probably the perfect day to enjoy the Ferry and the great views of both sides of the river, I couldnt have planned it better. I completed the walk to Prenton Park in short order and then headed back to Liverpool by train.

Earlier in the day I had contacted the Spirit of Shankly who are the Liverpool Trust and spoke to a chap called Roy, he had invited me that evening to a talk by Phil Scraton called “Speaking Truth To Power” at he beautiful St Georges Hall about his work on the Hillsborough disaster and the conclusions drawn from the recent report that had been published. It was a powerful evening, full of emotion and utter incredulity at the way the authorities conducted themselves on that day and in the weeks and months afterwards, many times there were gasps and shaking of heads from the audience at some of the ways that the Police forces involved behaved.

Simply put, Hillsborough was a disaster waiting to happen and a catalog of failures by all the authorities involved in arranging the fixture led to the deaths of the 96 Liverpool fans that day. The sad thing is that Police forces up and down the country still have a determination to demonise Football Fans and treat them with appaling disdain, like animals that have to be controlled. We should all do our best to change the culture of how fans are treated when attending football matches and the excuses that have been built on the lies of Hillsborough must stop.

I was incredibly humbled to be there and my thanks goes to Roy and all at SOS for allowing be to be present at a very special evening.

Next update completes Leg 3 and sees me heading further north as the reported coldest winter for yonks draws in. Yikes!