As if we walked 32 miles to watch a football match

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News of another charity walk in 2019 is due to be released soon, so what better time to get, lead organiser, Martin Tarbuck (aka Jimmy) to reprise the brilliant efforts of everyone who took part in this year’s Walk4Joseph.

The fact it has taken me six months to write this article tells its own story: I am hopelessly disorganised. I maintain it’s because I have a lot to do, I do like to plan things but generally lurch from one crisis to the next. This piece isn’t about me, though it is written from my perspective and I have been wavering over whether to write it or not for fear of becoming self-indulgent.

There is a saying which goes “surround yourself with good people” – and this is no mean feat when, in present company, I am surrounded by cynical fanzine scribblers. But for one weekend in April, a hundred good people, several helpers (both individuals and pubs/companies), I’m guessing thousands of generous fund givers and Wigan Athletic Football Club itself came together to do something truly brilliant.

 

PLANNING? WHAT PLANNING?
I’d had a discussion with Paul Kendrick about doing a walk early on in the season, and Fleetwood always looked the favourite but it wasn’t till after Christmas that we caught up and started to think “well, we’d best get this planned then”.

Now, given we’ve established that I’m disorganised and Paul is also, ahem, not the best at being organised, then when I look back, it took something of a miracle.

I maintain myself that I used to be pretty organised before I had a mortgage, wife and two kids but then I probably spent most of my spare time out drinking and watching Latics all over the place back then.

By comparison, Paul had another issue. He had his hands full in the form of another, newly arrived mini-Kendrick and also a Charity Ball and Legends game at Ashton Town to organise. Notwithstanding the fact that Joe requires a lot more care than your average child. So Paul did what any busy parent would do. He found some other mug to do it. So there I was.

To be fair, it is always something I wanted to do but the prospect terrified me. My default reaction when faced with something like this is NOT “this is going to be absolutely brilliant” but to begin a long list in my head of everything that could possibly go wrong. Indeed, I spent most of the weekend worrying constantly, only releasing that tension when the coach dropped us off in town and I was sinking a pint or two in Wigan Central. Then the phone call came “I’m not feeling well, can you come home…hang on, you sound like you’ve had enough already”. Family comes first. Your family and mine, and of course, the Wigan Athletic family.

Of course, you don’t need me to tell you that everything went perfectly over the course of the two days. I had spent a lot of time in the lead up researching routes and hotels, driving through several times, checking for footpaths and dodgy crossings, ringing up places (pubs!) where we could rest our feet en route, Paul got the club bought into it and a free lift home generously provided by Eavesway. Fleetwood Town, as a club, were every bit as brilliant as our own and I really wish them well this season and for their future aspirations. Yes, even though Joey Barton is their manager!

In the weeks leading up to it, I managed to churn out weekly “project plan” emails to all interested parties – yes, there’s other forms of communication these days but not everyone uses Facebook, Twitter, Whatsapp etc so email it had to be. Sponsor pages set up and linked, route finalised, hotels booked, all against a backdrop of hoping they wouldn’t change the kick off time (the EFL could change KO time up to four weeks before as you hit the end of the season). Then came the mass panic over tickets – I think most people got sorted in the end but there was no prioritisation given to walkers when the tickets came out, as was suggested by a few fans on the internet.

 

ONE MISTY MORNING
It came to pass that an assortment of Latics, probably numbering over 80 arrived at Euxton Training ground early one cloudy Friday morning with rucksacks and heavy duty footwear in tow. And it was a right assortment too: young and old, lads and dads, mums and daughters, familiar faces and friends who hadn’t yet met, quite a few of the Mudhutter crew including that esteemed young man, Tony Topping. Groups of lads, groups of lasses and a few, shall we say loveable rogues who were fully intending on drinking their way through 32 miles!

(Thanks for hiding your cans of Strongbow on the 8.30am photoshoot lads!)

Paul Cook, Leam Richardson and Anthony Barry all turned up for the photoshoot and mingled with fans before training. I got to meet Paul Cook for the first time with a handshake and him pulling £25 out of his pocket to throw in the bucket. Another lad and dad from Buckshaw turned up and donated their ticket money as they hadn’t managed to get tickets, very generous.

We had Jonathan Jackson, David Sharpe, Emmerson Boyce, and partially-sighted international footballer, David Clarke all coming with us. What sort of club would have their chairman, chief executive and FA Cup-winning captain actually spending their Fridays walking 20 miles with the fans, happy to chat and mix freely and answer all sorts of questions? The greatest football club in the planet, that’s who.

It was Boycey who led us off wheeling Joseph Kendrick in front of him and then we were off through Buckshaw Village, Lostock Hall and Penwortham. First stop was in Lostock Hall as I knew there were public toilets there and a pie shop.

 

Again, we were treated to the sight of an FA Cup legend waiting patiently at the end of a pie queue, while a dozen or so sneaked in a pub that was already open to sink a few (barely 10am!!). Not for the first time, I felt like a geography field trip teacher, minus the corduroy with sew on patches going around constantly shouting “come on, are you ready” “five minutes left” “we’re going at half past” and “make sure you go to the toilet”.

I’d thankfully printed step by step maps and thankfully nobody got hopefully lost, ironically until we get within a few hundred yards of Fleetwood’s ground the next day. As for Friday, the day got better and the weather got better, we were making good time: around four miles an hour, and nobody threw me in the River Ribble as threatened – bonus!! Such gratitude eh? We passed through Preston’s Riverside with a stop at Morrisons for some food – NO, LADS NOT MORE CANS!!! – then onto the Blackpool Road for one long, 12 mile afternoon hike to the outskirts of Blackpool.

The two afternoon stops were both blinders, somewhat alleviating the increasing problem of aching legs and feet, one lad was getting wheeled in a wheelbarrow at this time someone had found at the side of a road. At least, I hope they found it. We stopped at a pub called Lea Gate after 11 miles, walkers everywhere, inside and outside at the front and at the back.

At that point, a friend of Tony Topping’s turned up who lived on the Fylde Coast (Alan Christy) on his customised blue and white Wigan Athletic scooter, the impressive sound system blasting out “Will Grigg’s On Fire” on repeat, all adding to the glorious atmosphere.

I don’t know if they were prompted or not but pretty soon both Boycey and Sharpey found themselves posing on the scooter, leaving the sporting world under no illusions that our chairman is better than yours. First serious #numbers generating tweet of the day from me, in a day where everything that was good about social media came to the fore.

 

Friendships were forged on the walk but we also seemed to have an army of people following all the updates online and it was probably no coincidence that the fundraising total was also shooting up nicely: £10,000 then £12,000 then £15,000 and upwards to £20,000 and beyond. Beautiful scenes.
The last pub of the day was, what you might call, a homely little place in Kirkham just off the main road backing on to a council estate called the Top House, yet the beer garden felt like the Café Del Mar in Ibiza in beautiful sunshine.

I’d tended to lean towards chain pubs so far, as they tend to be bigger and situated more on main roads but this one was a quiet, locals’ pub and the landlady was made up to have all these tired legs rolling up and spending money on beer, so much so that she gave us 10 per cent of it back by way of a donation!
The last five miles were a struggle: one long road with aching limbs and limited footpaths (thankfully lots of plants and shrubs needed watering…..oops), past the fracking protestors, until we could see the Holy Grail (well, Premier Inn) appearing like a magic vision in the distance.

Throughout the day it had been a constant challenge for me to hold the group together. As you’d expect, there were fast walkers at the front and stragglers at the back (yep, drinking cans) I had pre-reserved “an evening table for 80” at Plum Tree Farm next to the Premier Inn so as to ensure there was to be no more walking but the pub had a nice little outdoor area, where those who had already made it cheered home everyone else as they arrived.

Bags collected from our superb roadside helpers, Migs (yes, our Migs – he’s a lovely, cuddly, helpful chap really!) and Carol Ensor, hotel checked in, baths run and then back down to the restaurant for tea. I did have this grand idea of us all sitting at one big table, or at least in the same space so that Paul (not me, oh no!) could give a speech and a few words of inspiration, but it never transpired.

After a long day, everyone just relaxed, wolfed down a carvery and needless to say I still ended up one of the last ones to bed despite my good intentions. Before you know it’s 6.30am, the alarm is ringing and it’s time to check out and head for breakfast having barely slept (Big shout out to the 5 lads who went in to Blackpool on the Friday night, got in at 5am and went straight through, oh to be young and daft again!).

WE GO AGAIN
Another photo shoot outside the pub for day two and we are joined by Steve Curwood, CEO of Fleetwood Town, who sets us off alongside Jonathan Jackson for another 12-mile stretch.

I had originally planned to walk to Garstang on day one, stop there and then go across the Fylde countryside and board the Knott End ferry to Fleetwood but there was nowhere in Garstang with more than a dozen rooms available. With hindsight, and with despite all its negative reputation, there is nowhere better than Blackpool when the sun is shining.

After the first couple of miles, we went past Bloomfield Road and then walked almost the entire length of the Fylde Coast in glorious sunshine, waving buckets at generous passers by en route.

I spent a small part of Saturday morning walking with Mark Hayes, chairman of Ashton Town and somebody who works phenomenally hard on a number of fronts, but especially as a trustee of Joseph’s Goal. The annual fundraiser legends games at Ashton Town has become a regular event now, and a great chance to generate funds for research and watch past players Wigan Athletic players we’ve loved. And Pascal Chimbonda…Seriously, please try and support this next year, it’s not every day who can run on the pitch after the game and literally jump on Arjan De Zeeuw gents, and especially you ladies!

The whole event was a marvellous occasion but chatting to Mark about the starkness of Joseph’s condition really brought it home in the most humble terms. Joseph Kendrick is nine years old…and is already the oldest child in the UK with NKH. The timeline to finding a cure or even something to help manage the condition – according to the researchers in London and the USA being funded by Joseph’s Goal – is optimistically 12 to 18 months, and pessimistically five years.

 

This was the serious message behind the Walk to Fleetwood: raising the absolutely phenomenal amount of £36,000 (and rising) to help fund and accelerate that research.

I should also add that at every stop, the rest of the Kendrick family turned up to give Joe some fresh air and the goodwill towards our lucky mascot simply cannot be estimated. Without mentioning any other charities, or disregarding any efforts past and present or any politics which surrounds it, I doubt you would have found any other cause that would have unified these 100 or so Latics fans over two days as much as Joseph’s Goal does.

Joseph is a little boy cherished and loved by the Wigan Athletic community like no other.

Except of course his family. I‘m sure many people reading have got children, and again speaking personally for a second, my own two daughters have both had health problems – nothing anywhere near Joe’s magnitude and all is well now, but that feeling of having a knot in your stomach when they aren’t well is truly horrible.

My emotions or yours, however, must pale into insignificance, compared to the emotions the Kendrick family must go through on a daily basis, knowing that their son has a life-limiting condition. Yet they are incredibly positive, far more so than I could ever be. In their eyes: every single day is a blessing that they have got Joe for.

Having got to know not only Paul, who is pretty popular and approachable with Latics fans generally, but the rest of his family, they have responded brilliantly to fight for their Joseph and, believe me, they have been totally overwhelmed that so many Wigan Athletic fans have joined the fight against NKH. Joseph Kendrick might just be one little boy. But imagine if Joseph was your little boy? Wouldn’t you want to do every single little thing you could for him as well?

NKH affects up to 500 children worldwide right now and, as I have already mentioned, many children born with it do not live very long. Most don’t make it out of hospital. So it is about so much more than 500 children, it is about finding a cure for something that has severely affected one of our own, and also thousands of children in the past and, sadly, in the future until a cure is found.

We’d learnt something from yesterday, namely whoever was at the front of the walk needed to be in touch with whoever was at the back, as far from being a tight, cohesive unit, there were literally miles between the start and the end as the day progressed. I was near the front, trying to keep up with the speed demons, while Lee was at the back coaxing the rest along.

The Blackpool stretch was further complicated due to us sharing the Promenade with a huge 10k event running towards us. Pity the poor lad who was competing wearing a Blackburn Rovers shirt. Picture the scene: You’re running a 10k in searing heat, you’re absolutely knackered. Possibly the last thing you need is a certain gentleman of WN5 hurling abuse in your face regarding the genetic extraction of Bradley Dack.
Onwards to the Wetherspoons in Cleveleys, where my omnipotent, sweary Scottish therapist, Barca Jim, plies me with ale to get me to calm down. Got to say that Jim was brilliant throughout, though I suspect he misjudged the mood, wandering around the away end with a bucket in a Celtic shirt

Granada Reports turn up to film the last stretch, while we manage quick interviews on Wish FM and Radio Manchester. There’s a load of photos taken a mile or so up the road as we see the “Welcome to Fleetwood sign” and get ready for the final push. We’re guided into the ground for photos, having conquered the 32 miles, and then it gets a bit chaotic as we’re left to our own devices. In the home end.

Most make it around to find the correct entrance, and as for the game, well you don’t need me to tell you, that was absolutely perfect as well, culminating in the news we had been promoted following Shrewsbury’s draw against already-relegated Bury, of all teams.

In a strange turn of events, the fans actually did stay off the pitch, although in the case of many of our lot, I doubt we had the legs left anyway, and then we retired to the Fleetwood Supporters Bar, where their chief executive gave me a book full of vouchers to buy everyone a free pint with. See what I mean, what a nice club they are!

A lovely touch on the way home as a nice chap of casual extraction called Paul, whom many of you will know, and you certainly couldn’t miss, as he did much of the walk dressed as a giant baby, had a whip round for me to thank me for organising it, to get a few drinks with. Though as mentioned earlier, I barely had time to spend it before I got whisked off home.

I also got given a pair of free tickets for the exec lounge for the final home game off Jay Taylor, the club’s SLO, who also attended the walk. Alas, I gave it away as I had fanzine duties to fulfil, I can’t trust the rest of them to run things in my absence, even though they are adamant that my sole contribution is to sit in the Supporter Club swigging ale, while they brave the elements, selling the thing outside.

And that was just about your lot. It just leaves me to say a massive thanks to everyone who participated, or who sponsored someone who did, or who helped or contributed in any way.

And yes, thanks to Paul Kendrick for letting me take charge of something that was a great success, it was an absolute pleasure. And as I said at the start, it was all down to the brilliant people who got involved, and I hope and pray the outcome is that it goes some way to making a difference to Joe’s life.

THE NEXT 50,000 STEPS
The footnote to this is that we are planning to do it again this year and the away game at Leeds is pencilled in. And just as I say that, there goes the worry-o-meter once more:

“everything was so perfect last time, that it’s bound to be terrible this time…”
“will people be willing and able to take two days off work (and Good Friday)…”
“they’re bound to change the kick-off times ‘cos it’s Leeds…”
“and those ticket prices, who on earth is going to pay £40? (speaking as someone who has been particularly vociferous about Leeds’ pricing in the past)…”
“it’s going to be hilly and the weather will be shite across the Pennines, even in April…
“walking 53 miles is just insane”.

As ever, details are sketchy so far and quite possibly a bit ridiculous. Wednesday: Euxton to Burnley.

Thursday Burnley to Halifax. Friday: Halifax to Leeds. But we’ve set out stall out now I suppose, so we have to do something…so with that in mind, feel free to drop me an email on walk4joseph@gmail.com and here begins the process of collecting names.

What have we let ourselves in for? If it’s anything like Fleetwood…an experience none of us will ever forget.
Jimmy, now a proud Joseph’s Goal ambassador

Post script: Although it really doesn’t matter which walker you gave your money too, with everything else going on, I didn’t have time to properly thank all those who sent over a grand my way at the time

  • Richard Sumner
  • @mightylatic
  • NHSBSA North West Unison Branch (Carol Ensor)
  • Cathy Brimelow
  • Dave (@Guinnessta??)
  • Paul (@NorthernCasual??)
  • Martin Moore
  • Sophie Kelly
  • Rob H
  • Neil M (@WAFC_TPC)
  • Ian S (Suchy?)
  • Sean Livesey
  • Sam Penman
  • Jess & Amelie (my kids!!)
  • Gav (from the Globe?)
  • Neil Tague (supporter of the REAL Latics 😉 )
  • Dylan
  • Chris Finch
  • Howard Bradley (Brad)
  • Phil (Bradley?)
  • Mundial mag
  • Peter Kevitt
  • Anthony Cunliffe

And of course everyone else mentioned above, anyone who donated to anyone else or threw money into a bucket!!





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