I have mentioned previously that I am part of an online forum of Stockport County fans, and that my involvement with that group is partly responsible for the name of this very blog.
Let me explain. For those who are unaware, my beloved County are known as ‘The Hatters’ (due to Stockport’s proud hat-making history), so my pseudonym/moniker on the forum is ‘Sandbach Hatter’ (it’s not very clever, granted, but it tells you everything you need to know about me really).
It also doesn’t take a genius to work out how I later developed that alter-ego into the name of this blog. In fact, there is nothing genius about the name whatsoever, bearing in mind I rarely talk about the town where I now live, so readers might be forgiven for feeling somewhat misled. In fairness though, did you really think I would be able to write over seventy blog entries about a sleepy market town in South Cheshire? Or have you continued to stick with me until now, in the hope that I might soon discuss the roadworks on Middlewich Road, the desperate need for a crossing person outside Offley Primary School, or the fact that The Wheatsheaf appears to have changed hands yet again? Sorry to disappoint.
As it happens, I have thought about re-naming this blog for that very reason, so that it better reflects the utter (non-Sandbach related) bollocks that I come up with each week, but three things have held me back:
- All the clever names that I have since come up with, have already been taken;
- A good friend of mine designed the banner which adorns my Facebook page, and I would hate to see his work go to waste;
- It would mean re-training mum on how to find the new blog.
Anyway, this is all irrelevant. The main point is, I have been a part of this online community for many years now, and have met a fair few of its members in ‘real life’ – almost all of whom are lovely people and proper football fans. They are like my second family. Well, third family if you count the in-laws.
A few years ago, a random thread appeared on our site, posted by a children’s cancer charity called ‘Kidscan’. I’ll admit that I had never heard of them before – despite their being located relatively close to County, in Salford – and, to my shame, more often than not I would have treated their post as spam and ignored it. However, it just so happened that members of my wife’s family were being affected by childhood cancer at the time, and it consequently struck a chord with me. So I read on.
It transpired that, unlike many charities, they were not approaching us with a sob story, in an attempt to guilt-trip our members into donating (and then pestering us for more money later on, as some sadly do). They were simply asking if any of us would like to take part in a charity bike ride they were organising in Manchester.
For whatever reason, I don’t believe any of us were actually able to take part (a lack of any functioning bicycle, as well as a deep hatred of cyclists, contributing heavily to my own personal absence), but because of the effect the post had on me, and the fact that I hadn’t taken part in a charity event for a few years, I decided to organise something myself.
It struck me that, of all the possible fundraising events I could consider, the easiest – and cheapest – to organise (and certainly the most accessible for the majority of people), would be a sponsored walk. Linking this to County was easy – we would simply walk to an away game. This is not a new concept, as I remembered a group of Brentford fans walking to their last away game of the season, at County, a few seasons earlier (about two hundred miles), so I decided to give it a go.
Now, if someone had suggested to me that we walk a similar distance to those Brentford fans, they would have been met with a resounding ‘fuck off’. As I have already explained, I wanted to make the event as achievable as possible for most people, so a local derby seemed far more appropriate. At the time, this narrowed the choice down to just two away games, and since one match was taking place over the Christmas period, it made the other – Macclesfield Town on Easter Saturday – a clear winner (which is about the only time Macclesfield Town have been the clear winners of anything).
So, on 30th March 2013, the first ever ‘Hatters Hike’ took place. Eighteen County fans (and Bexley, our dog) set off from Edgeley Park in Stockport, and walked the thirteen miles to Macclesfield’s ‘Moss Rose’ ground, prior to our match there. Everyone completed the walk (apart from Bexley, who was collected by my wife at the half-way stage), and we raised over £1,800 for Kidscan in the process. It remains one of my proudest achievements.
For a variety of reasons (not least of which was County’s relegation from that league at the end of the season), we did not repeat the walk the following year, but then, in 2015, I decided it was time to do it again. So, on Saturday 28th March 2015, almost exactly two years on from the original Hatters Hike, a slightly smaller – but no less determined – group, took part in ‘Hatters Hike to Hyde 2015’. As the name clearly suggests, our destination this time was Hyde FC and, because the distance to their ground was a considerably shorter seven miles, we walked back again afterwards.
Despite there being fewer participants this time (around half of the original Hatters Hike, in fact), we still raised more than £1,500 for Kidscan, which was again a fantastic achievement.
In organising both walks, I was assisted by a very good friend of mine, who we shall call ‘Hatter in Macc’ (or ‘Maccy’ for short) because, well, that’s his name. It’s not his real name, of course, his real name is Gareth, but he has asked that I refrain from using it, to preserve his anonymity.
I have known Gar… Maccy for around six years now, but it wasn’t until August 2012 that our partnership was formed (not literally – at least, not in the civil sense), when we were invited to take over the writing of an article in County’s match day programme.
Over time, not only has our article become a firm fixture in County’s programme – and arguably the best bit – but we became something of a double-act. I don’t mean that in the sense we toured the nation performing comedy (not yet, anyway), but we were invited to write articles for other teams’ programmes, we represented the forum at various County events, and generally became a well-oiled team (again, not literally).
Our latest venture – ‘Sandy and Maccy’s Big Road Trip 2016’ – is taking place in four weeks’ time, as we endeavour to visit all twenty-two football grounds from the Conference North (as at the 2015/16 season) in just one weekend. It promises to be our biggest challenge yet – by some margin.
Despite its name, the ‘Conference North’ actually covers most of England, so we will be travelling as far as Fylde in the North-West, North Ferriby in the North-East, Lowestoft in the South-East, and Cheltenham in the South-West. If things go according to plan, we will leave Edgeley Park early on the Saturday morning, and return around 9pm on the Sunday evening, having travelled just shy of 1,000 miles.
Here’s our itinerary:
Saturday 25th June 2016
Stockport County – 08:00
Stalybridge Celtic – 08:25
Curzon Ashton – 08:45
FC United of Manchester – 09:10
Chorley – 10:00
AFC Fylde – 10:45
Bradford Park Avenue – 12:15
Harrogate Town – 13:15
North Ferriby United – 15:00
Gainsborough Trinity – 16:00
Alfreton Town – 17:20
Boston United – 19:15
Sunday 26th June 2016
Lowestoft Town – 09:00
Corby Town – 11:45
Brackley Town – 13:00
Gloucester City – 14:30
Worcester City – 15:30
Solihull Moors – 16:30
Nuneaton Town – 17:10
Tamworth – 17:45
Hednesford Town – 18:15
AFC Telford – 19:00
Stockport County – 21:00
I have contacted all of the other clubs in the league to ask for their support, and around half have replied so far, with a handful of those posting an article about the trip on their own sites. I have also done an interview with a newspaper, and Maccy will be appearing on Tameside Radio tomorrow afternoon.
Our aim, aside from raising a huge amount for Kidscan, is to try and meet fans of every team as we go around the country, as well as – where possible – exiled County fans.
This is where you fine people come in. If you happen to live near to any of the grounds we will be visiting, even if you don’t necessarily support that team, we would love it if you could pop along and say hello when we arrive. The more people to welcome us at each ground, the better. Unfortunately, we will only have a few minutes before we have to be on our way again, but there will be live updates over the weekend via Maccy’s Twitter account – @GarethE77815055 – so that people can keep up to date with our expected arrival times, since our itinerary is very dependent on traffic.
If you are able to meet us, I can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org, so that your name and contact details can be added to our list.
Last, but not least, it would be awfully remiss of me if I didn’t appeal to your good nature and ask for donations. If you could take just a few minutes out of your day to take a look at the fantastic work that Kidscan do (www.kidscan.org.uk) and then spare a little change to help us reach our target (www.justgiving.com/bigroadtrip2016) we will both be eternally grateful.
Just think, if each of my regular readers donated just £2, we could add something in the region of £12 to our total.
If you donate AND come and meet us to lend support, I might even give you an uncomfortably long hug.
But don’t let that put you off.