Run FatBlog Run (Wilmslow)

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That’s it, it’s all over!

On Sunday, I successfully completed the tenth and final race of my challenge for 2018, when I ran the Wilmslow ‘Festive’ 10k. To say I am pleased that it’s all over would be an understatement, but at the time of writing this week’s entry my Just Giving page stands at £1,465, which is phenomenal. To put that figure into perspective, it means an additional 146 hours of research into childhood cancer, which makes every painful stride worthwhile, and I am very grateful to those who have donated.

Over the course of the year, I have seen two races cancelled at the last minute (including my inaugural race at Kidsgrove in January, which was cancelled – due to snow and ice  -with me stood at the start line raring to go); I have have battled injuries to my hip, knee and foot; I have tripped and fallen in training, suffering a gash to my right arm and leg; and I’ve been hospitalised with a suspected heart attack (which, thankfully, it wasn’t), when I collapsed barely twenty feet from the finish line at the Whitchurch 10k in April.

In short, it hasn’t been easy.

Which sounds pretty pathetic really, as a lot of proper runners will see 10k as nothing,  a brief jog and nothing more – but to me it’s my limit. I can’t imagine I will ever attempt a half marathon, and certainly never a full marathon, so I am in absolute awe of anyone who does.

Anyway, for the final time, here are my scores for the Wilmslow 10k:

Time: 47:08 (my second fastest time of the entire challenge, and whilst it was a shame to miss out on a PB in my final race by just 21 seconds, I shouldn’t complain too much, when I was struggling to meet my sub-50 minutes target just a few months ago.

Position: 723rd (out of 3,291)

Cost: I think this race is ordinarily around £19, but since I got a special offer to enter both the Wilmslow and Alderley Edge events for the bargain price of £29, they were essentially £14.50 each.

Course: The course itself was largely ok, save for the giant hill between 8 and 9k, and the fact that the organisers moved the finish line this year to ease congestion in the town centre and allow more of a finish ‘strait’.

Unfortunately, this meant the finish line was over a mile from the start, and on a country lane, which not only meant spectators fighting to get a place on one of the four buses the organisers put on (which thankfully my wife and kids did), but the finish line was very overcrowded. Oh, and then the runners had a choice of fighting to get one of the buses back, or face an extra mile-and-a-half to their car.

I think, on balance, I would have preferred the old route, whether it had a finish strait or not.

That said, apart from the one big hill towards the end, the course was mostly flat, on good condition roads – which, unlike at Arley Hall, remained fully closed throughout –  and was packed with enthusiastic spectators cheering us on. I even high-fived some kids on the final stretch, such was my euphoria at this bastard challenge being nearly over.

Each kilometre was clearly marked, and it was well marshaled throughout. Shame that moving the finish line has cost Wilmslow points, really – 7/10

Weather: Cold, but not quite as cold as the Oulton Park race in February, and certainly not as cold as Kidsgrove would have been, had it taken place. A little bit of rain, but not enough to put me off. Could have been worse – 7/10

Organisation: The organisation was very efficient, as I have come to expect from RunNorthWest, with a detailed pre-race pack sent through a couple of weeks in advance. The numbers were also posted out early, so there was no need for me to even visit ‘Race HQ’ on the day. They did advise against wearing headphones, but there was no way I was running my last race without music, and to be fair none of the marshals ever challenged me.

The results were online very quickly the same day, and I even got a text from ‘Nifty Timing’ the instant I crossed the line, so I knew my time, position, and wear I had finished in my category (middle-aged men who are shit at running, or something to that effect).

Wilmslow is, however, let down by the fact the start line in the town centre was so crowded, with no organisation of runners based on their ability/expectations, that the result was faster runners who wanted to get near the start were clambering over the barriers among the spectators, and this led to Ollie nearly taking a running shoe to the face.

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Shame, really, otherwise this race would have scored highly – 7/10

Official Photos: Yet again, Mick Hall was the chosen race photographer, and I have to say he is very efficient, uploading thousands of photographs the next day.

Unfortunately, with over three thousand runners to snap, it would be fair to say he didn’t exactly capture my best side:

So that’s one beheading, one with my eyes shut (I’ll share some of the blame for that), and one where the bint next to me has nicked my ‘race number ten’ pose. She’s either getting in on the action, or mocking me, but either way she can fuck right off. I might even cut her out of that one.

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There. Much better (and it even emphasises the pretty rainbow behind me).

Thankfully, my good lady wife grabbed a few good shots before and after the race, including a great photo of my sprint finish:

Still, Mick did his best, and they were all free to download – 8/10

Medal: Very nice indeed, and very distinctive. Good work, Wilmslow – 9/10

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Goody-bag: For only the second time throughout the challenge (the other being at Colshaw Hall in Knutsford), the goody bag comprised an actual bag. This was filled with some sweets, a caramel flapjack, and some energy powder (which I think you are meant to add to water, but after the ‘birthday cake’ flavour powder at Oulton Park at the start of the year, I don’t think I’m brave enough to try it). No running shirt this time, though – 7/10

Post-race refreshment: Just a bottle of water, but that’s only because the other treats were in the bag, and the finish area was so cramped, they wouldn’t have been able to organise fruit and other treats really – 6/10

Summary:

Course: 7/10

Weather: 7/10

Organisation: 7/10

Photos: 8/10

Medal: 9/10

Goody-bag: 7/10

Refreshments: 6/10

Which gives the Wilmslow ‘Festive’ 10k a total score of 51, meaning it is tied with it’s sister event, Alderley Edge.

So, without further ado, here is my final table:

Arley Hall                           54/70                     (77%)

Sandbach                            53/70                     (76%)

Colshaw Hall                      52/70                     (74%)

Alderley Edge                     51/70                     (73%)

Wilmslow                            51/70                    (73%)

Birchwood                          49/70                     (70%)

Whitchurch:                       49/70                     (70%)

Tatton Park:                        47/70                     (67%)

Oulton Park:                       46/70                     (66%)

Poynton:                              39/70                     (56%)

Arley Hall is therefore my favourite race of the ten (which has absolutely nothing to do with the fact it was my fastest race, and towards the end of the whole ordeal being nearly over).

That said, I did begin to wonder whether my scores were becoming more generous as the challenge went on, because I was getting fitter, my times were improving, and because I was less nervous before each race. However, when I look back over the final table now, I do genuinely feel that Arley Hall was my favourite race, and Poynton was a sack of shit, so apart from Birchwood being slightly lower than expected in hindsight, not to mention the fact Whitchurch is mid-table despite doing it’s level best to kill me, I think the scores are about right.

That’s it for my running now, at least for this year. I don’t imagine I will continue to take part in regular 10k events (although I may be persuaded to compete in the Sandbach race again next year, with it being so local), and I won’t be training anywhere near as hard, but gentle jogs around the town, and the odd Parkrun when I can, are by no means out of the question.

Anyway, I’m so glad it’s over, as I’m sure you are too (back to cheap knob gags next week, folks), and I would just like to thank everyone again for their support and donations throughout this daft challenge. I would like to especially thank my wife and kids, for coming along to every event to cheer me on (regardless of the weather conditions).

Best of all, look at all the new running shirts and shiny stuff I have gathered over the past ten months:

Finally, there is just enough time for one last push for donations, so if you could spare a few quid to help me hit £1,500, take a look at my Just Giving page:

https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/greg10x10k

Thanks for reading x

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Run FatBlogRun (Arley Hall)

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Last Saturday I completed the ninth of my ten 10k races for the year, as I raise funds for my chosen charity, Kidscan, and I think the fact the challenge is nearly over is something we can all be pleased about.

I am pleased, because it means I will soon be able to bid farewell to long distance competitive running. I don’t like it, I’m not very good at it, and it is clearly bad for my health – and hips.

At the same time, you should also be pleased, because it means you won’t have to read about my running any more, and we can all get back to blog entries about my moronic children, and the various unfortunate events that seem to plague my life.  Be honest, we all prefer a bit of childish swearing and a cheap knob gag, right?

However, for all the pain and exhaustion I have suffered throughout the year, and despite the fact I have not grown to love running as everyone predicted, I am pleased I set myself this challenge, because it has been a real struggle for me (when it perhaps wouldn’t have been for most runners), so I feel like I have genuinely earned all the donations to my JustGiving page.

And, on that subject, I am delighted to reveal (to those of you who don’t already know), that last Saturday I reached my £1,000 target, which means more than one hundred hours of additional research into childhood cancer. That fact alone makes every single painful stride completely worthwhile.

My penultimate 10k took place at Arley Hall in Cheshire, and to say it went well would be an understatement, as I managed to shave more than a minute off my PB (which, bearing in mind my previous best put me in hospital for two days, to run faster without collapsing was certainly a bonus).

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Arley Hall

It’s not like the build-up to the race went particularly well, either, as I had been struggling with both my left knee and right thigh/hip in the days prior to the event (plus, Isaac had been his usual nocturnal self the night before), so we arrived at Arley Hall shortly after 8am with me already knackered and aching.

My lack of enthusiasm was compounded when we reached the ‘event village’ for the race (which was nothing more than a series of gazebos in a field), and I immediately slipped in sheep shit. The stuff was everywhere – indeed, my wife and the boys ended up victims to sticky ovine plop on their footwear too – and aside from the sheer disgustingness of it all, my paranoid brain feared it might cause me to slip mid-race and injure myself.

I managed to focus myself, however, and apart from the start of the race being a little congested, it wasn’t long before we were underway, dodging potholes (and more sheep shit), before leaving the grounds of Arley Hall for the country lanes of Antrobus – which, I am well aware, sounds very much like a low-cost travel company.

My calm was short-lived, however, because soon after we passed through the main gates of Arley Hall, some colossal fuckwit collided with me (naturally, in true British fashion, I apologised to him), and it really threw my concentration. Thankfully, I managed to compose myself by spending the next minute or so coming up with various penis-related insults to shout at him, should our paths cross again later in the race.

It wasn’t until I reached the 1k marker, however, that I looked at my watch and realised ‘Dick Van Dick’ (look, they weren’t all gold) had inadvertently – or perhaps deliberately – stopped my watch at 2:26, which meant I had no idea how fast I was running (other than to say it had taken me at least two-and-a-half minutes to complete 1k, but I could have predicted that much).

Whilst, in hindsight, it was not exactly rocket science to calculate my pace from that point onward, I was never that strong at maths under pressure anyway, and trying to work out the time at which I should reach the remaining markers suddenly felt like… well, rocket science.

It took me an inordinately – and embarrassingly – long time to work out that, so long as I could reach the 2k point before my (since-restarted) watch hit 7:30, that was approximately the right pace, and I would have to hope that the first kilometre was not slower than anticipated, otherwise I would struggle to finish within my sub-fifty-minute target.

No sooner had I solved my maths problem, however, I was then faced with two further distractions: the first being a horse rider, who had somehow evaded/ignored all the road blocks to come face-to-face with 1,400 runners (which clearly spooked the horse, and could have proven very dangerous), and the second being the fact I was then overtaken by a fat cow.

Now, before you start hurling insults like ‘misogynist pig’ or ‘sizeist neanderthal’, I must stress that I was genuinely overtaken by a fat cow (as in the oversized farm animal variety, or a bovine beast, if you will), which was running in the field next to me. Now, bearing in mind how ungainly cows are, and the fact they are rarely mentioned in the same sentence as words like ‘speedy’, or ‘streamlined’, this was rather embarrassing and off-putting.

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A pointless image, really

Fortunately, the rest of the event ran smoothly (pun intended), and aside from missing the 7k marker entirely – which caused a brief panic – I returned to Arley Hall in what I later realised was an alarmingly quick time (for me). This was much to the dissatisfaction of my wife, who was very concerned that I was crossing the line considerably faster than the Whitchurch 10k, and was expecting me to keel over at any moment.

There was no collapse, however, and once she had berated me for running too fast (I quickly explained about ‘Jordan Prickford’ stopping my watch so early into the race), there were congratulations all round.

I was also approached by one of the runners I had overtaken on my sprint finish (who had sportingly cheered me on), and he asked about my challenge, having seen my name and the charity on the back of my running shirt. He even promised to donate himself (which he hasn’t, yet, but it was a nice gesture anyway), and as we went our separate ways, we even managed a ‘cool’ handshake/shoulder bump, which in my head went a little like this:

bro hug GIF

But in reality was probably more like this:

country hug GIF

Anyway, moving swiftly on to the scores:

Time: 46:47

Position: 354th (out of 1,347)

Cost: £19.00 – one of the more expensive events, but still decent value for money.

Course: If the organisers could get rid of the treacherous, pot-hole filled, sheep-shit splattered first/last 200m straight, then this would be my favourite route yet. It’s almost entirely flat (every event so far has contained at least a couple of nasty inclines), and this shows in my time. The course was mostly along decent roads and paths (unlike the muddy, woodland sections at Poynton and Tatton Park), and apart from a few potholes it was ideal.

Each kilometre was clearly marked (well, I assume 7k was, but I missed that one), there were marshals at every turn, and the sprint finish was pretty fun – 8/10

Weather: Like the last two events, the rain had come down pretty heavily in the days beforehand, but the race itself was dry, sunny and not too cold – 9/10

Organisation: The pre-event organisation, and collection of running numbers on the day, were both very good, but sadly there were some issues during the race. The start was a little disorganised, which resulted in me getting penned in behind some much slower runners, and the road closures were poorly enforced, leading to a horse rider, some cyclists, and eventually some cars getting through – all of which could have caused a serious injury (but fortunately didn’t).

However, the results were posted online very quickly after the event, and I’ll cut the marshals some slack in terms of the roadblocks, as it seems the motorists in question were not only determined to get through, but very abusive – 7/10

Official Photos: The race photos were courtesy of Mick Hall, who, if memory serves me, was at the Birchwood 10k a few months ago, and they were again free to download. Also, despite the fact there were well over 1,000 shots to upload, he had the photos on Facebook by the end of the day.

I only appeared in two (and the finish line photo was shit, so I’m not sharing it), but he did get a decent snap of my new ‘pose’ – which is actually meant to signify this being my ninth race, and is not intended to be a camp little wave (as my siblings initially thought):

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I’ll give Mick and his team 8/10

My wife also took some decent shots, including one of the sprint finish:

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Medal: Very similar to the Tatton Park 10k medals (on account of the fact this race is organised by the same people). Very nice indeed, if a little ‘samey’ now – 8/10

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Goody-bag: As with many of the earlier races, I was presented with a very smart running shirt for my troubles, and since I don’t yet have one in black, it was gratefully received (even though it’s a little useless for running in the dark winter months) – 7/10

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Post-race refreshment: With the event being organised by ‘RunThrough’, who also do Tatton Park’s monthly 10k, we again received some of their delicious flapjack, as well as water and a banana. Nothing fancy, but it very rarely is – 7/10

Summary:

Course: 8/10

Weather: 9/10

Organisation: 7/10

Photos: 8/10

Medal: 8/10

Goody-bag: 7/10

Refreshments: 7/10

Giving the Cheshire 10k an impressive total of 54/70, making it my new favourite with just one race to go:

Arley Hall                           54/70                     (77%)

Sandbach                            53/70                     (76%)

Colshaw Hall                      52/70                     (74%)

Alderley Edge                     51/70                     (73%)

Birchwood                          49/70                     (70%)

Whitchurch:                       49/70                     (70%)

Tatton Park:                        47/70                     (67%)

Oulton Park:                       46/70                     (66%)

Poynton:                              39/70                     (56%)

The score would have been even higher, were it not for the sheep poo (which took ages to scrub off), and the poorly adhered to road closures.

My challenge is almost over, so if you would like to donate, here’s a link to my Just Giving page:

https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/greg10x10k

Thanks for reading x

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Run FatBlog Run (Alderley Edge)

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Over the last week or so, I have gained a number of new followers – welcome.

To bring you up to speed, my blog is published every Friday via WordPress, and has no real theme or topic. It’s not a blog on cooking, or fitness, or parenting (although parenting often features, because our boys are an almost endless source of comedic material); but is instead a random collection of whatever shit happens to be mulling around my head at the time, or going on in my life, and which I think you may find amusing. In a way, this is like therapy for me, because my brain can be a very dark and foreboding place at times, so it’s nice to share my weirdness with you all (for free).

Despite there being no particular theme to my blog, this year I have set myself a challenge to run ten 10k races for my chosen charity, Kidscan, who are a children’s cancer charity based in Salford – and I have been posting a ‘report’ of each race after the event.

If you haven’t read any of these ‘running’ blog entries, then please don’t be put off from reading any further. They are nowhere near as dull as they sound, thanks in no small part to the fact I am utterly shite at running, and catastrophe usually befalls me when I don my running shoes. Plus, each of my ten races this year are somewhat unique, and hopefully these blog entries will serve as a nice record of my charitable exploits in years to come. Future generations may even mistake me for a nice guy.

(Oh, and if you have read any of my previous running entries, don’t tell the newbies that the last paragraph was complete bullshit, ok?)

Anyway, for all newcomers, and as a reminder to the rest of you, here is a brief summary of my challenge so far – and, if you wanted to read any of them, there’s a handy link to each entry underneath):

Race #1 – Oulton Park 

Ran around a race track in very cold temperatures. Hated every second.

https://middlerageddad.com/2018/03/09/run-fatblog-run-oulton-park

Race #2 – Poynton

Completed a circuit of the village where I grew up (and now work). Hated every second.

https://middlerageddad.com/2018/03/30/run-fatblog-run-poynton

Race #3 – Whitchurch

Ran too fast around a very steep course, collapsed near to the finish line, spent some time in hospital. Needless to say, hated every second.

https://middlerageddad.com/2018/04/13/run-fatblog-run-whitchurch

Race #4 – Tatton Park

Still shaken by the events of the Whitchurch 10k, this was my slowest race to date (by some margin) as I had to stop and walk a few times. Hated every second.

https://middlerageddad.com/2018/05/11/run-fatblog-run-tatton-park

Race #5 – Colshaw Hall

Rather enjoyed this one, just a few weeks ago (only joking, I hated every second).

https://middlerageddad.com/2018/06/22/run-fatblog-run-colshaw-hall

Anyway, last Sunday I took part in my sixth event, in Alderley Edge (posh Cheshire), which entailed running down the A34 bypass… then back again. It doesn’t really matter if you are familiar with Alderley Edge or not, as I am sure you can imagine a single-carriageway bypass, but just in case you are desperate to visualise the event, here’s a photo:

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Believe it or not, I am on there, so feel free to play your own version of Where’s Wally? (or Where’s Waldo? for my American following). To help you, I am wearing a purple running top.

Ok, a bypass is not exactly the most interesting of routes, but the organisers relied heavily on two unique factors, to entice people into entering their particular event:

  1. Many of these 10k races involve road closures, but not usually one of the busiest bypass routes in Cheshire (even on a Sunday morning);
  2. They placed live entertainment along the route – to break the monotony of running along a predominantly straight road.

It also seems that either the organisers themselves, or someone involved in the setting up of the race, had a similarly twisted sense of humour to those behind the Colshaw Hall event two weeks earlier. If you read that entry, you may recall that there was a particularly nasty hill, which had not been referred to on any of the pre-race documentation, and the organisers chose to place this sign at the top of it:

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The gits.

Anyway, the Alderley Edge team (or some little fucker gone rogue), decided to go one better with their own version of a ‘motivational’ sign, because shortly after the 2k point, when all the runners were already starting to flag thanks to the heat, there was a very obvious ‘Just don’t be shit’ sign by the side of the road. Ok, it was actually ‘Just don’t be Sh1t’, in a lame attempt to avoid any ramifications, but it would hardly take Alan Turing to crack that particular code, would it? Fortunately, I thought it was pretty hilarious, but I suspect someone may well have taken issue and kicked it down by the end of the race.

Anyway, I have been rating the various events against each other, so here are the results of the Alderley Edge 10k:

Time: 49:48 (which is just about within my unofficial target of finishing each race in under fifty minutes)

Position: 423rd out of 1,733 (so still in the top third, which is another unofficial target of mine). Interestingly, over 2,200 people entered the race, but a handful failed to finish, and several hundred didn’t even bother to show up. Wimps.

Cost: £19.50 – which is one of the more expensive races, but the organisers (Run Northwest), allow you to enter both this and the Wilmslow 10k (which should be my final event in November), for a discounted price of £29.00, so they’re really £14.50 each. Bargain.

Course: As you might imagine, a bypass is not the most interesting of routes, but when it comes to running, I’m not really in it for the scenery anyway. Plus, running down a predominantly straight road – and then back again – has certain advantages: it’s easier to keep track of your progress (and even easier to work out the half way stage, as it’s the only time you turn around), plus there is very little scope for getting lost. Add to that, the fact there was live music at four points along the route, and it wasn’t as dull as you might think.

The course itself was mostly flat, nice smooth tarmac, and with no chance of any stupid / aggressive motorists ignoring the road blocks (even though I did nearly get hit by an ambulance dashing to the aid of a fellow runner), it was easy to concentrate all my efforts on not dying – 7/10

Weather: Too. Bloody. Hot. Ok, as with the other events, I can’t really blame the organisers for the weather, but baking heat is sometimes a risk when you organise an event for the start of July, even if this predominantly-overcast country of ours, so they have to accept some responsibility. Still, at least it wasn’t snowing – 6/10

Organisation: Very well organised. Lots of pre-race information, contained in a nice little booklet – which was posted out to us with our running numbers (and timing chips) the week before. There were several enthusiastic and supportive marshals along the route, two water stations (due to the heat) – which were both efficiently manned – and plenty to do at the Race HQ, for those not taking part themselves – 8/10

Official Photos: Free to download from photographer Mick Hall’s website, and to have all 20,000+ uploaded, and individually tagged (so you simply put your race number into the system, and it brings up all the photographs you are in) within a couple of days, is extremely impressive. As per usual, I look like I could die at any second in all of the ones I feature, plus I appear to have developed a rogue left arm when I sprint finish, but that’s not Mick’s fault – 9/10

And here are some my wife took before, during, and after the race:

Medal: Sizeable, thick and heavy (three words which can also be used to describe me) – 7/10

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Goody-bag: Difficult one to judge this. Normally, when there is no goody-bag, I am highly disparaging of the event, and give a low score as a result. However, the organisers quite cleverly stated that the lack of goody-bag was to save on plastic (so I would look like a dick for complaining), and they did give us a rather fetching running shirt instead. In fact, this is my favourite running shirt of the three I have received so far this year (the others being at Oulton Park, and the ill-fated Whitchurch event) – 8/10

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Post-race refreshment: Plenty of water, and a nice selection of flapjacks. I opted for caramel (not that you care), but it was delicious and, had I not been feeling sick to my stomach at the time, no doubt I might have had more than a nibble, before my eldest son scoffed it. Still, no jelly babies though – 6/10

Summary:

Course: 7/10

Weather: 6/10

Organisation: 8/10

Photos: 9/10

Medal: 7/10

Goody-bag: 8/10

Refreshments: 6/10

Giving Alderley Edge a total score of 51/70 (or 73%) – another very impressive score, placing Alderley Edge just behind Colshaw Hall on the leaderboard:

Colshaw Hall                      52/70                     (74%)

Alderley Edge                    51/70                     (73%)

Whitchurch:                       49/70                     (70%)

Tatton Park:                        47/70                     (67%)

Oulton Park:                       46/70                     (66%)

Poynton:                              39/70                     (56%)

I now have a nice little break until 19th August, when I’ll be running the Birchwood 10k (no, I haven’t a fucking clue where Birchwood is either), and, as ever, if you’d like to chuck some money towards a fantastic cause, here’s the link:

https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/greg10x10k

Oh, and for anyone still trying to spot me on that bypass photo….

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Thanks for reading x

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Blogged Determination

I’ve set myself a challenge for 2018. Yes, I know it’s a little early for New Year’s resolutions, but once the X-Factor live-shows start, it’s basically Christmas, right?

I’ve undertaken some stupid challenges in my time; however, generally speaking, I have always ended up being proud of what I achieved, usually because I was raising money for charity at the time – and you can get away with some pretty weird shit when it’s for a good cause.

“I’ve decided to hop to work on Thursday, dressed as Scooby Doo.”

“Are you mad? It’s three miles!”

“I know, but I’m raising money for The National Association of Disabled Great Danes.”

“Ah, fair enough. A fiver ok?”

In 2001, I watched all the James Bond films back-to-back (up to, and including, The World Is Not Enough), with a good friend of mine from Law School – we’ll call him Gerard because, well, that’s his name. It took us forty-three hours (without sleep) and, from a medical point of view, I believe our condition at the end of the ordeal would be best described as ‘a bit fucked-up.’

I can only take my wife’s word for this, because I have very little recollection of events from the start of Goldeneye onward, other than a vague memory of me being topless, and trying to mould a third nipple (in homage to Scaramanga’s anatomical abnormality in The Man With the Golden Gun), from some dampened pink toilet paper.

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It’s no wonder I never heard back from that Blue Peter audition.

Then, in 2008, Gerard persuaded me to join him in a charity abseil, down the side of the Europa Hotel in Belfast. At 51 metres high, The Europa boasts (if ‘boasts’ is in fact the right word) the title of being the ‘most bombed hotel in the world’ – and I threw myself off the side of it (admittedly attached to a rope, I’m not a complete moron).

To make matters worse, I was chronically hungover at the time, and still suffering the effects of a dodgy Lebanese kebab that I had drunkenly scoffed the night before. The people of Belfast will never know how close they came to literally being ‘shat on from a great height’.

I sometimes question why I remain friends with Gerard, because he is clearly not very good for my health (mental or physical), but he and I are very similar in many respects. In fact, we share so many common interests, the only clearly distinguishable difference between us (other than physical appearance – and even then, with the exception of his facial hair, we are not overly dissimilar), is that he is, without doubt, psychologically unhinged.

He’s like my reckless, sociopathic, death-defying alter ego from Northern Ireland. If it turned out that he is in fact a figment of my sub-conscious (a little like the Edward Norton / Brad Pitt relationship in Fight Club*), I would not be entirely surprised. I may, however, question why my psyche has given him an accent that I couldn’t fully understand for the first few months of our friendship.

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(*belated spoiler alert. Sorry if you’ve not seen the film, but it’s been out nearly twenty years, so you only have yourself to blame. Oh, and Bruce Willis is a ghost in The Sixth Sense, too. Oops.)

Partly because Gerard lives in Ireland, partly because we both now have families to look after, and partly because (as my wife constantly reminds me), prolonged exposure to some of Gerard’s ‘suggestions’, would almost certainly result in my boys growing up without a father, we haven’t seen each other in a few years. It’s probably for the best though, because the last time I spoke to him, he was still harping on about us kayaking down the River Lagan in Belfast, dressed as Mel Gibson’s William Wallace character from Braveheart. I’m not even sure why.

Anyway, as usual I digress. The bottom line is, I still like to set new challenges for myself every now and then (e.g. getting more than three hours of sleep, eating an entire packet of chocolate Hobnobs in one sitting, climbing a flight of stairs without developing back/knee/chest pains, etc…), but with one important distinction: I won’t be attempting anything dangerous. As such, skydiving and bungee jumping are definitely out of the question, as is swimming with sharks, cliff diving, and going to Port Vale away ever again.

These days, as I hurtle towards middle-age, I prefer my charity escapades to be feats of endurance, rather than anything which might result in serious injury or death. So, with that in mind, I have previously organised sponsored walks to away football matches (Macclesfield in 2013, and Hyde in 2015), as well as last year’s ‘Big Road Trip’, which involved myself and another good friend (who we shall call Gareth), driving 1,000 miles around the country, visiting twenty-eight football grounds in one weekend.

Our adopted good cause for these previous events, has been a children’s cancer charity based in Salford, called ‘Kidscan’. I first became aware of Kidscan, through my dealings with an online Stockport County fans’ forum in 2013, and since childhood cancer was affecting my wife’s family at the time, that’s when I took the decision to organise the first sponsored walk.

For my latest venture, I wanted to depart from anything to do with County (partly because there are no convenient away fixtures that we could realistically walk to this season – at least, not without a risk of snow – and partly because I simply fancied a change of direction), so I decided that my new hobby of running might be a suitable platform. Actually, ‘hobby’ implies that I enjoy running, whereas I merely tolerate it, in order to halt the advancement of middle-age spread. In all honesty, I am to running, what Boris Johnson is to foreign relations. Or running.

Having ruled out some kind of distance target (in my sleep-deprived state, I genuinely/naively Googled ‘how far is it to the moon?’, and then immediately dismissed the idea, when it transpired I would need to average 654 miles a day, for the entire year, to achieve my goal), I began considering other options.

Then, in a moment of weakness, I thought back to my first ever 10k race in September. At the time (and for a few days afterwards), I was telling anyone who would listen that I would never do it again. With aching limbs (and moderately tender nipples), still very much fresh in my memory, I had more chance of entering Iraq, or Katie Hopkins, than another 10k event.

However, time is very much a healer – of both memories and nipples (note to self: consider ‘Memories and Nipples’ as potential autobiography title), and it wasn’t long before I questioned whether I had been prematurely dismissive of competitive running. Maybe  I could grow to love it. Perhaps this was my sport after all. Perhaps I could still – even at my advanced stage of life – become one of the world’s great distance runners?

Ok, fine, if I’m honest, I just want more shiny medals to add to my collection (of one). Does that make me a bad person? No. If anything, it makes me a fucking magpie.

Then, one morning, I settled on the idea of running a number of 10k races throughout 2018. I briefly contemplated a challenge of doing one a month, but found this not only difficult to organise (I wanted to keep the events local, and there isn’t quite one a month in the surrounding area), but I also might need some flexibility in case of injury etc. So, having changed my plan slightly, I decided to try and run 10x10k instead.

The more I investigated the various running events throughout the calendar year, the more I realised that they all see it as one big competition between themselves, as they battle to be the best 10k event in Cheshire (not that such an accolade actually exists).

The ‘Knutsford 10k’ organisers claim to have the prettiest course and the biggest medal; the Alderley Edge 10k may be boring (the route essentially takes you down the ‘new’ bypass and back again), but is largely flat and promises the fastest times, not to mention a t-shirt in your goody bag at the finish; the ‘Poynton 10k’ is apparently like an assault course, with a route that includes some steps and a stile (although I do not necessarily consider this to be a good thing, as it’s meant to be a 10k race, not fucking Ninja Warrior UK).

In fact, each of my local 10k races seems to boast something the other’s don’t have, as if fickle sods like me are only attracted to material items and gimmicks, rather than the sheer love of running (ok, they got me, I’m only doing this for the silverware).

Each of the races I looked at, within a 25 mile radius of Sandbach, had their own individual appeal, with the exception of Market Drayton. Not only do they keep the contents of their goody bag a secret until the day of the race (how can I tell if I want to run their stupid 10k, until I know what I get at the end?), but the wearing of headphones is ‘strictly forbidden’ (despite it being a perfectly safe, fully road-closed, course) and results in instant disqualification. Well, Market Drayton 10k, I don’t care if you ‘sold out within 24 hours’ last year, as far as I’m concerned you can piss off with your shitty secretive goody bag, and I’m not running unless I can have music to distract me from my burning nips.

I’ve already paid the entry fee for five races: Kidsgrove in January, Poynton in March, Whitchurch in April, Knutsford in June, and Alderley Edge in July; and I have four other definite races pencilled in, which aren’t currently open for registration (including a repeat of the Sandbach 10k next September). For my tenth race, I am toying with the idea of a trip to see the in-laws in Norwich next August (which would be the largest event by some margin – several thousand runners, in fact), but there are a few alternative options if that doesn’t work out.

For now, I’m just eager to get going, as I think I’ll be less apprehensive when I have the first few races under my belt by Easter. All details – which will be updated as I go along – are contained within my JustGiving page, https://www.justgiving.com/greg10x10k, and if you feel like sponsoring me nearer the time, or joining me at any of the races (or both), well that’d be just grand.

And the best part about all of this? That’s at least ten blog entries for 2018 already.

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The Blogs Are Back In Town

Last week, I told you about the first day of the charity road trip that my friend Gareth and I took part in at the end of June, and when we left the story, Gareth and I were retiring to bed (separately) at my in-laws in Norwich…

Sunday 26th June 2016 – 08:00

After breakfast, our trip continued very much as it had finished on the Saturday evening – bang on time. We aimed to depart my in-laws at 8:00am, and depart at 8:00am we most certainly did.

Realising it would not take us an hour to get to our first destination of the day, Lowestoft Town (even allowing for the fact we might have to pass through some kind of passport control to get there, being situated, as it is, somewhere near Holland), we decided to visit yet another bonus ground – Norwich City’s Carrow Road. Little did we know that, upon leaving ‘The Canaries’, we were about to encounter an entirely different kind of bird altogether….

#12 – Lowestoft Town – 09:00

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Our arrival at Lowestoft Town was greeted by four people, including a lady who was easily the best dressed of the entire trip (even accounting for the gate-crashed wedding reception at Boston the night before).

‘Helen’ (I’m calling her that because, well, it was her name) looked resplendent in a long purple ball gown, complete with giant beehive hair-do. Quite what possessed her to dress like that, in order to meet two strangers in a football ground car park, remains a mystery, but we soon learned that she often ‘overdresses for the football’, and had not, contrary to our first suspicions, simply crawled out of bed from whichever party she had attended the night before.

Two things struck me about Helen, and I suspect they both struck Gareth too, such were their size. It was like she had smuggled two bald men into her very low cut dress, and neither of them were especially keen on staying in there. I hope I speak for both Gareth and I when I say we are not perverts, but if we looked anywhere within a five metre radius of Helen, passers-by would naturally assume we were ogling her boobs. They were so big, I would not be surprised if they had their own gravitational field.

It then transpired that the other lady in the group was the club photographer, and they had kindly opened the ground to take official pictures on the pitch. As Gareth and I stood on the centre circle next to Helen, she began to glance downwards (in hindsight, I suspect she was simply adjusting her scarf), before suddenly asking ‘Oh, and have you met Matthew and Daniel?’

Now, it later transpired that she knew two Stockport fans who had travelled down the previous season, and she wondered whether we also knew them (we don’t), but our initial assumption was that she had named her breasts ‘Matthew’ and ‘Daniel’ (or, presumably, ‘Matty’ and ‘Danny’ once you got to know them better).

#13 – Corby Town – 11:45

Corby

Having waved goodbye to ‘the Trawlerboys’ (Lowestoft’s nickname, rather than another unfortunate sobriquet for Helen’s chest), we faced our longest journey of the weekend – just over two hours to Corby Town.

Having briefly stopped at another bonus ground en route (Histon) we arrived only slightly behind schedule, and were met by another exiled County fan – ‘Market Harborough Hatter’ – with his two young daughters. Not only did his daughters produce some bags of change to go in our collection tins, but he then presented us with a County shirt worn by one of our legends many years ago, which he was generously donating for us to auction.

The five of us then entered the ground, to be greeted by the sight of balloons, flags and colourful bunting. Initially overwhelmed by such a gesture, we then spotted a large bouncy castle on the pitch, and realised none of it was for us.

Sure enough, we had now managed to gate-crash a children’s birthday party too, although when the chap behind the bar found out why we were actually there, it turned out he had heard about our trip, and kindly invited us in for a quick drink.

#14 – Brackley Town – 13:25

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Fuck me, that’s bleak.

Chalking up yet another bonus ground on the way (Northampton Town’s ‘Sixfields’ Stadium), we arrived at Brackley just under half an hour late. ‘The Saints’ had certainly not come marching in to meet us however, so we managed to take a quick photo of a stand which closely resembled a Cold War bunker, and then got back on the road to try and make some time up.

#15 – Gloucester City – 14:45

Gloucester

Gloucester City’s ground was badly flooded a few years ago (making it easier to bring their subs on, arf!), so they currently play their home games at Cheltenham Town’s ‘Whaddon Road’, which was actually a bit nearer for us, and enabled us to restrict our tardiness to just fifteen minutes.

We were met by Gareth’s sister-in-law and her partner, but realising we still had most of the Midlands still to conquer, we were unable to spend as long with them as we would have liked.

#16 – Worcester City – 15:50

Worcester

Like Gloucester City, Worcester also spent last season residing at their neighbours’ larger property, playing their home matches at ‘Aggborough’ – the home of Kidderminster Harriers. Here we met a good friend of Gareth’s – ‘Kiddy Andy’ (being a reference to his supporting of the Harriers, rather than anything more distasteful) – but again we were sadly unable to spend very long with him.

Andy kindly presented us with a bottle of beer each to enjoy when we got home that evening, and we bid him farewell (making a quick detour to Worcester’s new ground in, erm…. Bromsgrove, before our next stop).

#17 – Solihull Moors – 17:00

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Solihull were the other team to be promoted from County’s league last season and, like North Ferriby the day before, their ground was also a disappointing cesspit. Continuing my tradition of christening certain grounds, I again took a piss behind their stand (although, unlike at Stalybridge, this was a urinary protest), and away we went.

#18 – Nuneaton Town – 17:30

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I think this picture says it all really. Shut. Shit. Move on.

#19 – Tamworth FC – 17:55

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Prior to our trip, I had joined as many online supporter groups as I could – in an attempt to spread the word of what we were doing – and while the response from Nuneaton’s fans had initially been very positive (even though no one bothered to actually donate or turn up to meet us), their bitter rivals Tamworth were the complete opposite.

In fact, I only received one reply to my post on their forum, and it was more of a pro-Brexit rant than anything else, so my view of Tamworth was not particularly favourable before we arrived. However, that was all about to change.

One Nuneaton fan had jokingly referred to Tamworth’s Lamb Ground as ‘the tip’ (even promising to donate, if we would take some of his garden waste with us to deposit there), but having subsequently seen Nuneaton’s ‘Liberty Way’ ground from their rusted and locked gates, his comment strikes me as very much ‘people in fuck-ugly glass houses….’

In fairness, The Lamb Ground was hardly the Taj Mahal either (a delightful looking curry house we had passed on the way), but that was mostly due to the fact they were laying a brand new pitch at the time. What matters, is the welcome we received.

Unlike at Harrogate and Lowestoft – where we had anticipated some form of greeting – we hadn’t had any contact from Tamworth whatsoever, so when we arrived and saw a few cars in the car park, we initially feared a repeat of the ‘Glanford Doggers’ from the day before.

However, it turned out that, far from being unsavoury sex-pests, the five Tamworth fans who had braved the rain to honour our (late) arrival, were the loveliest of people. Not only did they invite us in to the ground to have more official photographs taken, but they then presented us with a huge bag of goodies, including snacks, drinks, and even a signed football for auctioning.

As a result, Tamworth – rather unexpectedly – joined Harrogate and Lowestoft in our top 3 clubs of the weekend.

#20 – Hednesford Town – 18:35

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The only downside to such a nice reception at Tamworth (when we had been expecting a quick photo and hasty departure), was that we were now badly behind schedule again. Fortunately, not only had I over-estimated how long it would take to get to our penultimate ground, Hednesford’s ‘Keys Park’, but it was again locked and deserted, so the quick photo we had planned at Tamworth, merely got delayed by one stop.

Determined to try and get as near to the ground as possible (which looked more like a factory than a football stadium), we parked up at the gates, leapt over them, and ran down the track that lead to their main stand like we were on ‘Challenge Anneka’ (or another more current – and less camp – reference).

We posed, comically, outside their main entrance, before noticing the signs which warned that there was constant CCTV in operation. Oh well, that should give the security team something to talk about (although not, I would imagine, as much to feast their eyes on as their counterparts at Scunthorpe).

#21 – AFC Telford – 19:15

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Our last ground of the adventure before heading back to Edgeley Park. No official welcome again, but we were met by our good friend and fellow County fan ‘Shropshire Hatter’, who posed for some quick photographs, before making his way home in the rain.

And that was it. The race was then on to get back to Edgeley Park for our scheduled arrival time of 9:00pm.

Edgeley Park – 21:05

Ok, we didn’t quite make it back on time, but turning up only five minutes late, having driven over one thousand miles, was not to be sniffed at, and we had two good reasons for being ever-so-slightly late.

Firstly, we were very nearly involved in a nasty crash, when I came around the bend on a country lane to be greeted – very abruptly – by the mangled wreckage of a car blocking the road. Thankfully, not only did everyone appear to be ok, but my reflexes were not as subdued as they might have been after such a long drive, and we were able to safely navigate around the crash without further incident.

Any confidence in my driving ability was, however, rather short-lived, as a far more serious incident occurred only moments later. Remember how I mentioned, at the start of last week’s entry, that there had been a murder on the trip? Well, I was the murderer, and my car was the weapon.

Actually, ‘murder’ is a little extreme a description, but I may not have held your interest for so long, had I more accurately referred to the crime as ‘vehicular avian slaughter’. In fact, technically, it was vehicular avian suicide, and that is certainly what I would argue in a court of law, but I doubt the surviving family members (the ones who didn’t bounce off the front of my car and end up in a hedge) would see it that way. Oh, the guilt.

Still, we had a deadline to keep, and we arrived back at Edgeley Park tired, but ultimately very proud of what we had achieved.

The total amount raised has now exceeded £2,000. Not bad, considering we essentially spent the weekend dicking around, whilst eating sweets and listening to music. To everyone who donated, no matter the amount, thank you so very much. We’ll be in touch about our next big adventure soon!

Oh, and for anyone outraged at me for senselessly murdering a door-to-door make up sales lady, that’s Avon you twat. ‘Avian’ means ‘bird’.

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Notorious Blogging Spot

As some of you will know, last weekend I embarked on a rather elaborate road trip with a good friend of mine, who we shall call Gareth because, well, that’s his name.

I won’t go into detail explaining what it was about, who it was for, and why we were doing it, as I covered all of that in entry #71 (‘The Blog Trip’) but, briefly, we were attempting to visit all twenty-two football grounds in Stockport County’s league (as at last season), in just one weekend, to try and raise funds for local children’s cancer charity, Kidscan.

Now, I could sum up our trip in just three words – ‘we nailed it’ – but that would not be doing the adventure justice, and would not be telling the full tale. And, oh boy, do we have some tales to tell….

Saturday 25th June 2016 – 08:00

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We aimed to depart around 8:00am and, as became something of a trend over the weekend, we were bang on time. Waved off by the two ladies who run County’s club shop, Gareth’s wife and son, and another County fan, ‘Northyorksexile’ (who is, thankfully, an exiled County fan living in North Yorks, rather than a North York ‘Sexile’ – whatever that may be), we set off.

In the two days which followed, we visited all twenty-two ‘official’ grounds (plus eight ‘bonus’ ones); took a thoroughly underwhelming trip across the Humber Bridge; gate-crashed a wedding reception and a children’s birthday party; and witnessed an enormous pair of breasts, a murder, and some dogging. Now, if that doesn’t make you want to read on, nothing will…

#1 – Stalybridge Celtic – 08:25

Stalybridge

We arrived at Stalybridge’s ‘Bower Fold’ ground, on time, to find it locked and deserted. I took a piss behind one of their stands (I was strangely desperate for the toilet already, rather than this being any kind of urinary protest at the absence of anyone to greet us), and we were back on our way.

#2 – Curzon Ashton – 08:45

Curzon

It was, sadly, the same story at Curzon – only without the piss. We had initially received a very enthusiastic response from the club a couple of months ago, promising an official welcome and photographs on the pitch but, alas, this never materialised. Bizarrely, however, the ground was actually open – presumably because they felt there was nothing worth stealing – so we managed to go in and take some photos anyway.

#3 – FC United of Manchester – 09:10

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To complete the hat-trick of disappointing Greater Manchester clubs, the ‘Old Trafford Deserters’ also hadn’t bothered to welcome our arrival – whether that be fans of the club or anyone more official – and the gate to the car park was locked, so we again just took a quick photo and left.

#4 – Chorley – 10:00

Chorley

Before arriving at Chorley, we decided to stop off at our first ‘bonus’ ground of the day – Bolton’s ‘Reebok Stadium’ (I refuse to call it the ‘Macron Stadium’, in the same way I still insist on referring to the ‘M.E.N. Arena’ and ‘Opal Fruits’), before heading on to Chorley.

In contrast to the first three clubs on our travels, we didn’t really want to meet anyone at Chorley, since – as a result of some recent transfer dealings between them and County – they don’t seem to like us very much. Consequently, even though a couple of their fans had already been supportive and donated, we rather feared that any ‘Magpies’ (their nickname) turning up to greet us, may very well do so fully-armed. One for sorrow, two to kick the living crap out of you…

Imagine our terror, therefore, when we arrived in the car park, only to have someone tap on my driver’s side window shortly afterwards. Having damn-near shit ourselves, we were relieved – and surprised – to discover that my brother had driven down from Preston to say hello and bring supplies.

Again, Chorley’s ground was left fully open, so the three of us had a quick look around, I took another piss behind the stand (I don’t know what was the matter with me, but I appeared to have developed the bladder of an incontinent pensioner) and we gave our heartfelt thanks to my brother, before heading off.

#5 – AFC Fylde – 10:45

Fylde

At AFC Fylde’s ‘Kellamergh Park’ (which appears to be situated in the grounds of a pub), we were greeted by another County fan, ‘Bringbacklenwhite’, and his lovely wife, who had also brought more supplies – two bottles of beer and some cakes. As we arrived bang on time, and since our next ground was a bit further away, we were able to spend a little longer with them in the glorious Lancashire sunshine.

#6 – Bradford Park Avenue – 12:15

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Bradford Park Avenue was another ground where we expected something of a more formal welcome, as I had been in touch with the club only the week before to ask for permission to lay a white rose at their ground. One of our donors had requested that we do this for her, in memory of her fellow Yorkshirewoman, Jo Cox MP, who was murdered recently.

Sadly, the only person at the ground when we arrived was there by chance, and was in the process of cleaning their club bar. It’s fair to say he was more than a little perturbed by two blokes in Stockport shirts turning up to ‘decorate’ the ground with foliage, but the club had said it was ok, so tough.

#7- Harrogate Town – 13:15

Harrogate

Remaining in sunny Yorkshire, we then travelled northwards to Harrogate, which was our planned lunch stop for the day. The only reason for selecting this ground over any other, was because our ETA was 1:15pm, and ‘lunch’ was expected to be snacks in the car, but the welcome we received was a fantastic surprise.

Not only were we met by some guys from the club (as well as aptly-named fellow County fan ‘Harrogate Hatter’), they then brought out a platter of sandwiches and cakes (which were delicious, and I’m not just saying that because they may read this) as well as some drinks from the bar.

Even better, as we were leaving, they informed us that a group of their fans had clubbed together, and would shortly be making a generous donation to our Just Giving page.

Harrogate Town, from that day onwards, will always have a special place in my heart (unless they beat us in next season’s play-off final, then they can fuck off).

#8 – North Ferriby United – 15:15

North Ferriby

If Harrogate was delightfully surprising, North Ferriby (who, Gareth and I often quip, are our ‘favourite of all the Ferribies’) was very much the opposite.

Not only was it a tiny, run down ground – which, having won promotion via the play-offs, will depressingly see North Ferriby play one league higher than County next season – there was no one around apart from a cricket match on the adjacent field, and they didn’t seem the types to take kindly to two blokes asking for donations.

The one good thing about North Ferriby? It was so shit, we could take a quick photo and get back on the road.

#9 – Gainsborough Trinity – 16:30

Prior to our arrival at Gainsborough Trinity (of which I have very little to say), two ‘highlights’ of the weekend took place. The first was planned, as I took my inaugural trip across the Humber Bridge (the best £1.50 of someone else’s money I have ever spent), and the second was very much not.

Gareth had consulted the map, and suggested we could detour, ever-so-slightly, to take in Scunthorpe’s ‘Glanford Park’ ground. I was keen to do this for two reasons: firstly, I have never seen it – and with Scunny being a League One side, I had hoped it would be more impressive than some of the grounds we had encountered thus far – but secondly, it gave me a rather childish (and entirely unoriginal, I imagine) idea for a ‘selfie’.

As we parked up next to two other cars in the secluded car park, Gareth went one way to take some photos of his own, while I positioned myself under the ‘Scunthorpe United’ sign, to try and line up the shot for my comedy photo.

As I stood there, with my phone at arm’s length, I can appreciate in hindsight that it may very well have looked like I was pointing the camera at the cars opposite. This didn’t occur to me at the time, as I had assumed they were unoccupied, but all of a sudden, a rather embarrassed looking man got out of one car, half-jogged to the other car, got in and drove hurriedly away, while the woman who was left in the first vehicle followed seconds later.

I don’t think my grinning and shouting “Oi Oi!” as they raced away will have helped, either. I bet they’re nervously waiting for my photographs to appear on some ‘doggers caught in the act’ site. And in a car park in Scunthorpe too – hardly showing a girl a good time, is it?

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(Side note: doesn’t ‘The Glanford Doggers’ sound like a terrible folk band?)

#10 – Alfreton Town – 17:30

Alfreton

I have never been to the centre of Alfreton, but if it is anything like the area where the football ground is based, I can only hope it is twinned with an industrial wasteland in Siberia, otherwise the partnership is distinctly unbalanced.

In truth, Gareth and I – perhaps unfairly – hated Alfreton long before we arrived, purely because it was so far out of our way when we were making good progress down the eastern side of England. And, when you have already agreed between you that ‘Alfreton can go fuck itself’, it needed to be especially pretty to change our minds. Unfortunately, on the prettiness scale, Alfreton Town’s ludicrously-named ‘Impact Stadium’ is some distance below Susan Boyle, and its only ‘impact’ is to make you want to gauge your own eyes out with a rusty spoon.

To make matters worse, as we pulled into the car park we were watched by a rather unsavoury looking chap who was sat, by himself, on a nearby wall. He was, as Gareth quite rightly pointed out, very similar to the character ‘Tom’ from Father Ted. If you have never watched the show, or have forgotten Tom, here is a (rather poor quality) clip:

‘Alfreton Tom’ continued to stare at us, as we parked up and began to hurriedly take photographs. Alarmingly, he then started walking over towards us, before standing with his hands in his pockets and grinning. I am sure, in hindsight, this was a grin of friendship, but at the time we both feared it was the last smile we would ever see.

We quickly tried to explain what we were doing, before he interrupted us to say that he knew why were there, as he had been following our progress on Twitter, and had some change to put in our collection tin. You should never judge a book by its cover, folks, and I feel rather guilty that we jumped to the conclusion we were about to be made into a nice new coat for him to lounge around his cave in.

Alfreton Tom (not his real name), we salute you, Sir.

#11 – Boston United – 19:15

Boston

Our final ground of the day and, unlike the two which preceded it, Boston’s ‘York Street’ was all rather uneventful – save that we accidentally gate-crashed a wedding reception in order to try and use their toilet. Deciding against spoiling the happy couple’s big day, we instead made a hasty departure, keen to get to our overnight stop with my in-laws in Norwich.

We arrived almost exactly on schedule, filled the car up with fuel ready for the morning, ate a delicious meal cooked by my father-in-law, drank the beers given to us by my brother and Bringbacklenwhite, and crawled off to bed (separately, mind, we’re not Bert and Ernie).

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And I shall tell you about the remainder of our adventure next week….

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The Blog Trip

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:

  1. All the clever names that I have since come up with, have already been taken;
  2. A good friend of mine designed the banner which adorns my Facebook page, and I would hate to see his work go to waste;
  3. 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.

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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.

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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 sandbachhatter@hotmail.co.uk, 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.

 

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