I ain’t fraid of no Ghost

Its been an interesting few days, firstly in Coventry and then in Birmingham. The weather is definitely changing rapidly and the Autumn leaves are raining down wherever I go. I am not sure why but it seems only days since I noticed that the leaves were first changing colour and now they are dropping to provide me with a yellow and brown carpet as I walk, perhaps its always that quick or maybe the odd weather this year has contributed.

As I strolled through Coventry city centre on my way to the Ricoh stadium I was stopped by three young people with some sound recording equipment, they told me they were from the University studying Journalism and could they ask me a question. I agreed and thought to myself what matter of import could they want my opinion on? National topics or perhaps my insight into the Savile scandal or the US Elections? The question came….

Have you ever seen a Ghost?

I was speechless for a few seconds before guffawing a No. They then asked if I believed in Ghosts and I gave a lengthy answer about being an atheist therefore I didn’t believe in a spirit that perhaps could become a Ghost. The disappointment in their faces told me I wasn’t going to feature heavily in their work.

I had a great time in Coventry, the club themselves were very generous with their time and I was hosted for two nights by the Bond family. I discovered I am utter rubbish at FIFA13 even though I narrowly beat Harry over two legs, he let me play online and a 4-0 drubbing convinced me I should not play again without a lot of practice. Peter and Katrina treated me like one of their own, I can’t thank them enough for their hospitality.

That was mirrored when I got to Birmingham, Dave Farrell from the Blues Trust arranged for me to be hosted in the hotel around the corner from St Andrews and he and his lovely wife gave me dinner at their house before returning me back to my hotel room. It was a shame I didn’t get to see much of Birmingham City, they operate a 28 day policy for notification for charity requests, it seems that not every club has the time for common sense but with my usual wit and charm I asked to see someone from the Media department whilst I was at the club and he kindly took me pitchside and arranged for a promotional story. The club itself is in a bit of trouble and in limbo, the Blues Trust has a real challenge in trying to get fan involvement but with people like Dave driving it on I am sure that they will do good things in the coming months and years.

There isn’t a place in England or Wales that you can’t find a decent Pompey fan and Birmingham is no different, John Lish was my next host and we had many conversations about the state of the club, the Pompey Trust and football in general. I was due at Aston Villa on Saturday and they were playing Norwich at home in the lunch time SKY kickoff so I knew it would be difficult for the club to do much. My thanks go to Debbie Sly of the AVFC Community dept for securing me a complimentary match ticket. It was odd being a neutral at the game, I marvelled at the noise of the Norwich fans but was also quite shocked at how quiet and inert the Villa fans were. The side was struggling and the lack of support was quite shocking except at one point in the first half when, on the point of the 19th minute, all the Villa fans stood up and applauded for a full minute, this was in support of “Stan” who is the Villa player Stiliyan Petrov who is fighting leukemia. It was quite impressive to be honest and touching.

After the match I took a stroll across to West Bromwich to fulfil that part of the walk and in the evening John and I headed to a local curry house to enjoy a meal and more chat which was great fun as social evenings have been few and far between the last couple of months.

Next Blog will contain tales from West Brom, Walsall and Wolves, W tastic!

Not really much of an update. Sorry…..

I am now out of Wales, it has been a terrific couple of weeks touring the South of the Principality and I have certainly met some characters and without exception everyone has been very generous. The scenery has been well worth some of the tough hills I had to drag myself up and the weather has also been very kind to me, it must all go very wrong soon I fear.

This past week I have been walking from Swansea to Cheltenham, 90 odd miles in 5 days at a pace of around 15 miles a day traversing the Heads of the Valleys road passing along the south od the Brecons. I saw plenty of Welsh towns and villages like Ebbw Vale and Brynmawr but one place that I was very keen to visit was a place called Tredegar.

I was born in Tredegar Road in Southsea 44 years ago and have always had a fascination for the place that shared the name of the road I was born in so I had a good couple of hours exploring arond the town. To my shame I had no idea it was the birthplace of Aneurin Bevan, the father of the NHS amongst other political achievements, so it was very interesting seeing all the references to his life and the NHS that he created.

The countryside on the way back into England was stunning, especially a stretch from Abergavenny to Monmouth where I spent 10 miles walking on an old rail line around a mountain which had been turned into part of the National Cycle Network, it was a shame they hadn’t reused the tunnels which stood empty and closed, considering the amount of time and effort it must have taken to cut through the mountains it seems madness not to try and reopen them for some purpose.

On the way to Monmouth I got what I thought at the time was a nice surprise, my friend Steve sent me a text to enquire when I was getting to Monmouth, my first thought was that he was possibly in the area and was keen to meet me and I got quite excited.

I was wrong.

He wanted me to look at a Camper Van he was thinking of buying! The height of bloody cheek, especially when he told me what time I had to be there to view the Van. I’m walking round the country to raise money for charity, not to provide a vetting service on vehicles as I go round!

On Friday I finally completed my latest long stretch and arrived in Cheltenham, as usual the club themselves were very hospitable and showed me around Whadden Road. I was supposed to visit them on Saturday but they were playing away at Bradford and there would be no one actually at the club so I had a dilemma, do I have a day twiddling my thumbs in Cheltenham or do I do something else?

On Thursday the news about the Pompey Suppporters Trust being chosen as preferred bidder to buy Portsmouth Football Club and as a part of the Trust Board I was naturally very excited so I made the decision to head back to Pompey for 36 hours to see Pompey play Shrewsbury Town. So Friday afternoon I jumped on a train and was back in Pompey by the evening, the following morning I spent time with my Sister and Mother and then headed to Fratton Park to help out at the Trust Bus and talk to some of the people who had helped the Trust get to the cusp of success. Frankly the game was so awful I spent much of the first half wishing I was walking along the road again, but somehow Pompey managed to win 3-1 and after a few beers and catching up with some friends the day was over and an early start this morning to get the train back to Cheltenham and head onto Coventry.

I had hoped that it would be a far more of a party atmosphere at the game, but perhaps everyone is just very tired of the whole thing, certainly the quality of the football is tough to take after some of the Internationals we have seen at Fratton in the last 10 years.

Hopefully my week in Birmingham will provide a bit more material to entertain you with, i’m visiting some interesting clubs so fingers crossed!

The Mountain and the Good Samaritan

Its been an eventful and rewarding weekend in South Wales and the Welsh hospitality has been absolutely heart warming. Sunday night was a particular highlight but more of that later in this Blog.

I made my way to Swansea via Barry and Bridgend with an overnight stopover in Port Talbot in the shadow of a mountain. I got to the Liberty stadium around mid afternoon on Friday and I was met by Alan Lewis who is on the Swans Trust board, he arranged an interview with Sky Sports News for me as they had been setup there to cover the Ospreys rugby game being held at the Liberty that evening. Sadly I don’t think it got broadcast so if anyone from Sky Sports is reading this I’d love to get some coverage from them to help with my fundraising.

Alan took me to Llanelli because I was being put up by a Swans fan, Peter Thomas, I must thank them both for their great hospitality and kindness shown to me, it makes this journey all the more rewarding to be looked after by Fans of the club I am visiting. The following day I had been invited to the Family Day at the stadium which was promoting the Centenary celebrations and also the launch of a new shirt range with six kits from years gone by. I had a great day joining in with the event and also meeting many of the Swans Trust board including Fan Director Huw Cooze who’s brains I picked on many subjects to do with my work with the Pompey Trust.

Swansea City also presented me with a signed football to raise funds for Prostate Cancer and I asked the Swans Trust to take it and use it at a future event to get the maximum amount of money for my cause, the Trust also gave a copy of their Centenary Book recording many fans memories of supporting Swansea City, a lovely present which I can’t wait to read.

And so to Sunday, I left the Liberty and headed towards the Heads of the Valley road to start the long route to Cheltenham, I stopped off at Aberdulais Falls and looked around a reconstructed Tin Plate factory which was very interesting and I recommend it if you are in the area. I took some advice from some National Trust people in the information centre and they sent me off to a campsite a few miles away and also said I could go across the the country and follow the old Roman road called Sarn Helen.

It didn’t go well.

The road was more like a rocky muddy stream and dragging my 5 stone pack up some steep slippery inclines was extremely hard work but as always when I finally got to the top, sweaty and knackered, there were some stunning views to be seen. But I hit a wired up gate at the top as well and with the weather looking grim I decided to head back down via another path.

So, 2 hours later I arrived pretty much back where I started and with nowhere safe to stay for the night. I headed on down the road hoping something would turn up and I came across an Inn, but when I went in and asked if they did accomodation the answer was a straight no. I ws pretty stuck, so I sat outside to have a rest and collect my thoughts about what to do next, as I was chcking the map to see how many miles I had to go and a possible place to stay a chap left the pub and asked me if I had sat outside a pub in a place called Skewen earlier that day, I said I had and noticed his dog sunning himself in the window. He quickly said that I should come with him back to the Pib and stay the night as he had a spare room, too tired to argue I agreed.

It was a great night, Kevin who was the good samaritan ran the Pub called the Travellers Well and not only did I not pay for a pint all night he even bought me a curry. The pub was full of what they called “Headers”, that may be either because they lived on the Heads of the Valleys or because they were all headcases, I am not sure I should comment. Everyone was very kind about my walk and interested about my reasons for doing it, so a disaster had been turned into a cracking night in a welsh boozer with generous people. All thanks to my Good Samaritan Kevin, cheers mate.

This morning one of the Barman called Wayne gave me a lift back up the road to continue my walk and he even treated me to a slap up brekkie as well, he only asked me one thing, he gave me a bracelet that he wore to commemorate a friend who did in Afghanistan from the 1st Queens Dragoon Guards.

I will wear it with honour as I continue my Walk, it continues to be eventful.

Sleepy Todd, the butcher of Bristol

I’d had enough of my long hair last week, its just not very hygenic when you are sweating a lot and besides more than once when i’ve entered a pub I have had long stares aimed at me so I took the opportunity in Bristol to get a trim. Sadly I picked a very poor barber whom I’ve dubbed Sleepy Todd, the demon barber of Bristol.

I should have been alerted I was in for a bad time because he was asleep in one of the chairs when I walked in and when he asked what I wanted I began to describe my Walk and that I was doing it for charity he looked over his small glasses and grunted.

I wanted to keep my goatee long and just trim the rest, but once he’d fired up the clippers he launched at my face and started shaving the goatee! I stopped him with a shout and looking and the large chunk he’d taken out sugested he do the other side the same so I at least had a strip left down the middle. The butchery didn’t end there, he hacked away with the clippers and razor and cut me at least 3 times which he definately wasn’t apologising for.

To add insult to injury I reminded him that I was walking for charity hoping he would give a generous discount so as he totted up what he was going to charge me for “That’s 8 for the cut and 3.50 to do the beard”, he thought for a moment and then said “Ok, i’ll only charge you 11…” A whole 50p discount!

So, looking like a badly shorn lamb I visited Bristol Rovers last Friday before heading over the Severn Bridge to Wales. Walking the Bridge was a bizarre experience, when you got nearer the middle you could feel the bridge move and every time a big articulated lorry went past the floor undulated below you, I needed my sea legs until I got to the other side. Great views though, a real experience.

After a nights stop in the lovely town of Chepstow I headed West toward Cardiff via Newport and whilst in Cardiff I was hosted by Ade and Claire Foster, Ade is a Pompey fan and Trust member and I am grateful for their help whilst I was in the Welsh capital city. I apologise though for beating 5 year old Isaac at Connect 4 but my competitve streak forces me to even try to best children at any game.

Despite all the controversy about the rebranding of Cardiff City this is the first time I have seen the new Stadium and I was very impressed, I liked the fact they had left the old gates to Ninian Park up and turned the area into a memorial garden. Inside it is a well laid out new build with plenty of areas for the club to do things on a match day to draw fans in. Leaving aside the political problems of the ideals of the owners, I think Cardiff are Premiership bound for the first time, most fans will’be happy but they should be always vigilant.

Swansea next at the weekend then for me, if I can find it through the constant drizzle haze that is all over South Wales.

I’ve gone to the Dogs

Doing this walk has chucked up a few surprising things along the way in regards scenery. Just the other day I walked towards a village which had a familiar name but looked innocuous on the map, it wasnt a place I had ever imagined visitng but there it was, accidentally on my route. Its not a particularly exciting place either, unless you are a mad keen equestrian.

It was Badminton House, a place I had seen on telly many times but never thought I would ever just saunter past it without even knowing it was approaching. That went for the Haynes Motor Museum as well, they of the manuals that allow you to take your car apart and then hopefully put it back together again, Porn for Car Mechanics if you will.

Probably most poignant of the villages on the route to Swindon was walking through Royal Wootton Bassett which is next to RAF Lyneham and is the village that all returning casualties of the recent Afghan conflict are paraded through when they are repatriated. When i was there it was a bustling Saturday shopping crowd with no hint of any sombreness but I did stop at the small cenotaph in the centre and spared a thought for all those that didn’t pass through the village in the same way I did.

The previous night I had stopped at a campsite just outside Calne and spent a nice evening enjoing the first days play of the Ryder Cup on the TV in a local pub, it looked as if Europe would struggle all weekend to me, how wrong I was on that!

On the Saturday I had a visit from a lovely friend from London called Cathy who had booked us into a relatively cheap night in a top Hotel which was very kind of her. Now, I mean no disrespect to Swindon at all and I may have missed some of the more salubrious areas on my Walk through, but when conversation turned to what we might do in the evening, my first impression left with a desire to find something out of town. A quick look at the guide revealed that Swindon had a Greyhound track and I love an evening at the dogs so we spent a happy few hours trying to outwit the bookies, but inevitably of course the bookies won. I wasnt visiting Swindon until Monday morning so I had a free day on Sunday, we enjoyed a country drive to Marlborough and a roast dinner in the town, the perfect way to recharge my batteries for the walk to Bristol.

Swindon Town are a club on the up, since appointing Paolo Di Canio as Manager they have managed to win Promotion to League one via a playoff win last season and by the looks of the ground which I hadn’t been to for a long time, they are well placed to go up to the Championship and to be able to compete there. The ground is very tidy with the possibilty to build a new ground right next to it in the coming years, and whoever you speak to the reverence that is given to Di Canio is palpable, if they hang onto him he will bring success to Swindon Town I am sure. They gave me a good tour and made me feel very welcome so thanks to the backroom staff at Swindon and I wish them every success.

And now for the highlight of this part of the walk. Whilst in Bristol I am being hosted by a friend, Tony Hardy and what a wonderful host he is being. Not only is he looking after me he also agreed to pick me up from Chipping Sodbury on Tuesday night and take me back to Yeovil to see Pompey play them. We were also joined by another friend Andy “Urbs” Morris from Tewkesbury and the three of us drove down to Yeovil to stand on a cold, wet and windy terrace and we absolutely bloody loved it.

Pompey were fresh from a home win against Scunthorpe and that seemed to have bred confidence because the eventual winning scoreline of 2-1 to the away side flattered Yeovil. Pompey were deserved winners and should have won far more convincingly missing a hatful of chances in both halves, but hard work won the match with the team making it difficult for Yeovil to settle on the ball at any time.

On the terraces it was great to some familiar faces and old friends and the banter of the 1200 fans crammed together was hilarious at times, it really was old school football supporting which most of the fans there had been brought up on. What is pleasing though is that the many kids and teenagers who were there embraced the conditions and were loving just as much as all us old timers.

I really hope I get to see the occasional Pompey match on my Walk, I am a football fan and will watch any game I can, whoever is playing, but watching Pompey is just very special and it would mean I get to spend a few hours with many good friends which very often is the only joy you get from a match day.

Today I have completed Part One of my Bristol visit with a great afternoon at Ashton Gate, their supporter liaison officer David Lloyd suggested I come down during the press call and meet a few players and the Manager Derek McInnes. The staff were great and I had a few pics taken with 3 players and Derek signed my flag on behalf of the club, I also got a quick Radio Interview in for the BBC which I’d like to thank the reporter Geoff for, hopefully it will get me a few donations at the weekend.

David also invited me down to the Bristol City Supporters Trust meeting tonight, so I’m heading to a pub near to the ground later to meet with them and talk Trust stuff, it will be interesting to see how they are getting on and seeing what issues they have as a Trust and compare notes.

Then its on to Bristol Rovers tomorrow and over the Bridge to Wales! Blimey!