Meeting Heroes – On and off the pitch

Shocked into silence, that’s not usually me. I’m not usually star struck either.

I had arrived at Old Trafford the other Monday morning and announced myself in reception, there was some initial confusion while they tried to find the person who was dealing with me, but I sat patiently waiting to then be informed that there was no United Legend at the club today so I would not be having my photo taken with one. Slightly disappointed I joined a tour of the stadium which had been kindly laid on for me by the chaps in the media dept and which started at 10am.

The guide took us into the stadium after his initial introduction but his radio crackled with a message, “If Scott Mclahlan could run round to the East Stand reception then Sir Bobby will be there to greet him.” It didn’t really register until the guide said to me “Your luck is in Son, you’re meeting Sir Robert.” So, breathless with excitement I jogged round to the East Stand reception where the receptionist who had earlier told me I was out of luck was now offering me a Coffee and a seat to wait for the great man.

After a few minutes he emerged from the side door and he warmly greeted me after the Media chaps had introduced me and explained what i was doing. I was struggling to do anything apart from grin like a lunatic at this point but I did splutter out some words of thanks for him meeting me. At Sir Bobbys request we all headed up to one of the boxes which lead out to the Stadium in order to pose for some photos and immediately you could tell how warmly Sir Bobby felt about Old Trafford, he lit up when talking about the place. It was a pleasure to be in his company if only briefly, a real highlight of my walk and a moment I will never forget. He shok me warmly by the hand and wished me good luck bemoaning the fact he couldnt do much walking himself now, especially in places like Inverness where he had spent some time recently.

One of footballs true greats and a real gentleman.

After an interview for the United magazine I went back on the tour to see Old Trafford up close myself, its an impressive place and a recent addition of the Munich memorial in one part of the ground that is accessible by the public is a really nice touch, telling the story and also providing a fitting memorial. It really serves to remind people what early commercial airflight was like and sometimes just how dangerous it was, we take flying for granted now but post war it was a risky business.

That evening I stayed with a lady called Clare who lived in a nice place just outside of Stockport and worked at the BBC in the Mediacity, its an impressive place in the rebuilt quays and the whole regeneration of Manchester in that area looks modern and dynamic. Sadly Clare had a missing cat called Archie and we spent some time that evening looking for him and putting up posters, I hope he has now returned safe and sound.

The next day I headed to the Emirates to visit Manchester City, a place I had been before but the last time I had not very happy memories as Portsmouth were roundly beaten 6-0. The improvement is massive after a few years of investment and the place really looks like home, alongside a centre of sporting achievement where Sport England send some athletes, its an impressive complex now. The one thing that I thought was a very nice touch was a memorial garden where fans could scatter ashes of lost loved ones and also have a small service.

The club had laid on a couple of ex-players, Alex Williams and Paul Lake to have some pictures taken with me, but to my surprise they had also set up the actual Premier League trophy and Charity Shield to have some pictures taken pitchside with! This completed a personal hat-trick as I had also laid hands on the real FA Cup in 2008 when Pompey had it so this week was turning out to be very special. Sarah in the Commercial dept was also going to arrange a signed certificate to commemorate my visit, which was a very nice and unique gesture.

The Manchester City Supporters Club had also set me up with a night in the Brittania Hotel in the city centre so I was well catered for before I started doing some serious walking to the North Manchester clubs, what a few days it had been and I was sure the welcome at clubs like Rochdale would be just as warm.

From the Emirates it was out of Manchester central to Oldham, a shortish walk. When I got there I had the fortune to meet the Manager Paul Dickov and what a pleasant experience that was. Dickov had a reputation on the pitch for being an unpleasant type and he always used to score at Fratton Park so he was particularly hated for that in PO4 but to my delight he couldnt have been nicer. Genuinely interested in my challenge he asked all sorts of quesions and signed my flag, me and my big mouth though almost spoilt it because I told him the last Manager to sign it was McInnes from Bristol City and they had endured a terrible run since!

“Dont say that!’ said Dickov but luckily we both laughed it off.

Another short afternoon walk took me to Rochdale and a chap called Ian was putting me up for a couple of nights at his home in Bury. Rochdale, Bury and Bolton are relatively close so I wasnt going to be clocking up too many miles again this week. When we visitied Rochdale the following morning Ian had secured a donation of £50 from the Rochdale Trust which was a nice surprise, we were shown round Spotlands by one of the only 3 staff that seemed to be working there, a lovely young lady called Leighanne. I felt sorry for her because the only way out to the stadium from her office went through some Gents loos!

Next stop a leisurely stroll to Bury which is a much larger town than Rochdale and I spent a nice afternoon chilling out in a pub before completing the walk to Gigg lane. Ian and I went to his local Duck Club, complete with Bowling Green, to watch the England friendly against Sweden with THAT Ibrahimovic goal and enjoyed a beer or two.

Forever Bury looked after me at Gigg Lane the next morning and gave me a good tour around the place, I also met an amazing ex-serviceman who had been severely wounded in Afghanistan in a mortar attack, it certainly put my efforts into perspective when you meet true heroes and the story of his bravery was astounding.

If you’d like to help visit www.soldierscharity.org which is a wonderful charity helping wounded servicemen, not as well known as Help for Heroes but just as vital.

Next Blog will be up soon, hope you enjoyed this one and if so please donate at www.justgiving.com/walkthe92

Look out for Charlie Ironingboard…Hissss!

Up Sir Stanley Mathews way I strode, the Brittania appeared in front of me against the grey sky. The day before I had walked from my base near Newport in Shropshire and enjoyed a nice stroll toward Stoke along some lanes and canals and the following morning I was dropped of by my fantastic hosts Pat and Phil and made my way into the reception.

I was shown round the whole place and Radio Stoke did an interview with me sat in the dugout, as they pointed out the seat for the manager had been hardly used due to the gaffer Tony Pulis spending the whole 90 mins on the touchline. Despite being a relatively new stadium Stoke have done a great job in making it home, it has a sense of history about it now and thats in no small part to Sir Stanley Mathews being paid tribute in much of it. Every club has its favourite son and Stoke have one of the best ever to play the game.

That evening I was due at Vale Park to see Port Vale take on Rochdale and I was the guest of a great Vale fan called Paul and hs wife. I went to the club to have a look around in the afternoon as it was just a 2 hour walk from Stoke and was surprised to find out that there isn’t actually a place called Port Vale! The Potteries themselves are made up of several towns and it was sad to learn that most of the iconic Ceramics companies had been shut down and bought up by far eastern companies. Of course, who wants pottrey made in the far east but called by the British names? I hope that the companies get to come back and bring much needed jobs to the area.

The game was lacking in quality to be honest, Vale had one player of class and that was their top goalscorer this season Tom Pope. He grabbed two goals and led the line well until a Vale player got a straight red for what I thought was a clumsy at best tackle and Rochdale took advantage to roar back to a 2-2 draw. It was again a bit odd being a neutral at a game but it was good fun none the less. I did another turn on Radio Stoke at halftime and it went well although they possibly didn’t like my joke about Rochdales striker Dele Adebola and my disbelief he was still plying his trade.

For some reason I had planned 2 days to get to Crewe from Port Vale so I was going to arrive in Manchester 2 days early but it did mean I had the opportunity to go and see Pompey play at Bury on the saturday, but more of that later, first I was visiting Crewe Alexandra. I stayed at one of the old hotels near the station which was very Victorian in style and showed the history od the town as a transport hub and gateway to the north via Rail. The club once again gave me a very warm welcome and showed me round the ground, its dominated by one large stand which, when you walk to the top, commands amazing views of the surrounding area. After a cup of tea and a chat with the staff I headed off towards Manchester through the Wichs whivh would be the last bit of real countryside I would see for a few weeks. I reached Altricham on the Friday night and settled dow into a hotel by the station to get a good nights rest before a day of football on the following day.

On Saturday I took the Tram to the centre of Manchester and after some breakfast I headed to Manchester Piccadilly to meet fellow Pompey fans arriving from London but also I met Manc Malc who had settled in that part of the world many years ago and who had also generously paid for a hotel in Bolton for me for the weekend. Once everyone had gathered we took another Tram to Bury to head to the famous Trackside Pub which is, as the name suggests, next to a rail line that carries Steam train services. It was fun, a quite gorgeous day weather wise and the smell of smoke in the air, amazingly I have never been near a Steam train before and it was a pleasure to see one up close for the first time.

So, off to Bury, a ground I would walk to later in the week, to see Pompey play. Bury had so far had a very tough season and were in the bottom 4 so it was hoped that Pompey could get a badly needed win. It was quite the opposite though because Bury strolled to a 2-0 win via a dodgy penalty but they deserved it because Pompey were abject. I met some of the Bury fans for a drink after the game in their club including a lady called Sue from their Supporters Society called Forever BurySue who were arranging my visit to Gigg lane later that week.

Malc and I along with his friend Big Al who we shall call Charlie Ironingboard (a fake hoolie name given to him to wind up some local fans whilst on an England trip’ dont mess with Charlie Ironingboard!) headed to Bolton to get some food and then head to a pub to meet a friend of Malcs called Critch at his local, the landlord was leaving and there was a bit of a shindig. I got quite drunk and forgot that I had an interview with Sky Sports Radio the following morning, so when the alarm went off at 9am it was a bit of a shock and I found out I couldnt actually do more than squeak, when the call came in I said I had a cold to allow for my very croaky voice.

Later that day I headed back to Altrincham to finish the walk to Old Trafford and I was joined by the Barretts which made a nice change to have some company. We followed the canal which winds its way into Manchester stopping briefly at a PC World to replace my broken tablet (lesson learnt, dont buy cheap crap from China…) and we reached Old Trafford in time for some grub, so off to a Mexiacan restaurant we went, thanks to the Barretts for my dinner!

What a day the next day was, I’ll tell you all about it in my next update.

WWW.West Midlands

West Brom was shut on Sunday last.

Not surprising really seeing as they were in Newcastle playing and it had not been possible to setup me going with the Baggies fans to St James Park, probably for the best as it might have cost an arm and a leg even on an official coach. So as the rain came down and I took some pictures of the outside of the ground I took a chance and went to the Reception anyway. Inside was just one security guard but as it happened he was a lovely fella and, after hearing my tale, he locked the front doors and escorted me inside to take a few pictures of the inside of the ground. Top bloke.

From there it was about an 8 mile walk to Walsall, the rain was coming down harder but the walk was fairly straight forward. The Walsall Trust had kindly booked me into the Bescot Hotel right next door to the ground but just before I arrived I saw an iconic building that everyone that has ever driven the motorways around Birmingham has seen.

The RAC control building.

Of course you would have seen the Bescot as well, but I was particularly excited by walking past this iconic landmark. A chap called Steve Davies from the Walsall Trust had arranged to meet me at the Hotel in the evening and we had a good chat about Trust stuff and how things were going for our respective clubs. He was very honest and said that he did not se the Pompey Trust succeeding in the long term in returning Pompey to its former glories, I disagreed of course, but I guess a lot of other clubs fans perhaps share that view and will be watching with interest.

Walsall were very accomodating the next morning and I was onto my third W club in a row, Wolverhampton, which was just a few hours down the road from Walsall. I stayed in the Britannia Hotel, a famous Hotel in the town centre, but getting in wasn’t as straight forward as it should have been. I went to the Reception to ask if they could do a cheap room for me and the receptionist looked rather confused by my asking, but she phoned the Manager anyway who, after some thought, flatly refused. How very kind.

Undeterred I asked what the cheapest rate was and the answer was 40 quid, I enquired about the sign behind saying “Single rooms from £29″ and was told an unblievable answer “Oh thats online only, we cant do that on the desk”

So, slightly gobsmacked, I sat in reception and booked a room over the internet on my phone and returned to the receptionist with the booking number but still I had to wait another 60 minutes for the damn booking to arrive. What a farce.

That evening I spent a nice 3 hours in the Billy Wright bar in town nervously watching Pompey throw away a draw against Sheffield United, plus ca change.

I headed to Molyneux the next day and it being Half Term there was a kids event on so, despite me not previously being able to contact them, I announced myself at reception and was kindly helped out by the Supporters Liason Officer who got me photos with the mascots and allowed me in the stadium to get some great photos of the place.

Next stop Shrewsbury but on the way I was being put up by my best friends parents who are the most wonderful people I have ever had the privilege of knowing. They live in a lovely Shropshire village and over the next week they looked after me as I made my way around Shropshire.

Adrian and Marcus from the Shrews Trust had got in touch and both had agreed to meet me when I got near the town. The previous day I had walked to within 4 miles of the Town to a place callec Atcham, a great walk which took in the historic village of Ironbridge which, as the name suggests, has the very first Iron framed spanning bridge in the world and the local area is known as the birthplace of the Industrial Revolution for the innovative Ironworks that had started there. So Adrian and Marcus met me at Atcham the next morning and whilst Marcus took photos alomg the route, Adrian and I walked to the new stadium, Greenhous Meadow, that Shrewsbury Town call home.

The club were very welcoming and delighted to see me, I was given a tour of the stadium which included the concourse areas that had recently been decorated with pictures and a great mural that was designed and painted by a local school to brighten up the normally drab concourse areas. This had been achieved with lots of help from the Shrews Trust, so yet another example of a fan organisation working well with its Club.

The club themselves also put me up in a nearby hotel and I was very much looking forward to attending an Ale festival in town that evening, but I was laid low by an upset stomach so stayed at the Hotel instead of sampling some of the local Beers. A real shame.

The next day I left the Hotel and started the trek to the Potteries, Marcus met me with his son and we had a good chat about Trust life. Shrewsbury had been one of the nicest places I have visited so far, this Walk is really starting to be enjoyable and as I head to Manchester I am sure the clubs and stories will come thick and fast.

Stay tuned.