Last-day nervous excitement spurred Jeff Stelling and his fellow marchers on a whistle-stop tour of West London clubs, negotiating the Thames Path and the capital's congested streets, before a hero’s homecoming at Wembley stadium, having smashed 262 miles and our £300k fundraising target.
From: AFC Wimbledon To: Wembley
Distance walked: 26 miles Total marchers: 50+
8am AFC Wimbledon had laid on a fine breakfast spread at their Kingsmeadow home, but it wasn’t the croissants and coffee that perked up some tired faces among the marchers. This was our last day, the home stretch to Wembley, and Jeff and Russ were bristling with anticipation. All of us set off with excitable grins.
9am Almost immediately we were traipsing the Thames Path, along sunny grass banks and past the impressive canalboat complex of Teddington Locks. Psychologically, just following the capital’s great river made the finish-line feel tantalisingly but deceptively close.
11am Brentford FC’s manager, Dean Smith, welcomed us to Griffin Park for our first pit-stop and gave us Matt Le Tissier to take away with us. He quickly fell in with his footballing contemporaries, Trevor Sinclair and Mark Bright, and the three of them were gossiping and joking like schoolboys at the back of the bus.
12:30pm Despite our city surroundings, the riverside path at Barnes descended into a mire the match of any we’d encountered in the countryside. Dennis Wise’s daughter was amused by her dad – such a fearless tackler in his heyday – fretting over getting mud on his white trainers.
1:30pm After double-backing on the other side of the river, we arrived at Craven Cottage, where the huge Richard Osman – an even huger Fulham fan – gave Jeff the hugest of encouraging hugs and told him it would be pointless to call in at arch-rivals Chelsea down the road. But we stuck to our plans and, within less than an hour, Dennis Wise was signing autographs in the dugout at Stamford Bridge.
2:30pm There was an impatience from everyone now to get on, so we were soon back on the busy pavements of West London, where the logistics of negotiating dense urban streets imposed themselves for the first time. Our route organisers, Adventure Café, did a sterling job of halting impatient drivers for us to cross roads and cycling ahead to direct us down the right way. Only a crowded Shepherd’s Bush Green, with a terrific-looking funfair, nearly got the better of them and their easily-distracted charges.
4pm After a brief stop at Loftus Road, we continued venturing north to the sound of honking white vans, whose delighted drivers had spotted their QPR heroes Les Ferdinand and Andy Sinton now walking among us. After a brief stretch of the Grand Union Canal, we emerged at street level to our first view of the Wembley Arch up ahead. Our roadside location was ugly and congested, but every one of us paused there a moment to appreciate the magnificent finish now within sight.
6:30pm Through a warren of factory warehouses, main roads and high streets, the arch kept appearing and disappearing like the false summit of a mountain. Then finally we turned a corner onto Wembley Way and the stadium’s massive video screens overhead announced the finish with the message ‘Unbelievable Jeff!’. We’d done it: more than 262 miles walked and our £300k target was smashed just hours beforehand.
6:45pm Rocky-like, Jeff and Russ bounded up the steps to the stadium entrance to huge applause. But inside, the 107 steps up from the pitch to the Royal Box to receive their medals were taken much slower, the adrenaline now fading from their weary legs. Fellow finishers David Annand and Kevin Webber were naturally more sprightly, having undertaken just the final day of the March. But really it’s they who had gone through the longest and most demanding journey, dealing with the scourge of prostate cancer. In his valedictory speech, Jeff acknowledged it was men like David and Kevin – with their “humbling, uplifting and unforgettable” stories – who had been his inspiration to keep going. And of his friend and constant companion on the March, Russ Green, he simply said: “he is the most determined, gritty and lovely bloke”. Both were walking proof of the extraordinary things men united can achieve.
Overheard on the hoof: “I want you on your back on the bed now.” (Jo Summers, our volunteer massage therapist, to Jeff every day of the March.) “I wouldn’t have missed it for the world.” (Jeff on taking on the ten-day challenge.)
Celebs spotted: Trevor Sinclair, Dennis Wise, Matt Le Tissier, Richard Osman, Francis Benali, Mark Devlin, Chris Powell, Dean Smith, Mark Devlin, Les Ferdinand, Ned Boulting, Mark Bright, Andy Sinton, Jason Cundy.
Marcher of the day: David Annand. "As soon as I was able, I wanted to give something back to the charity."
Please donate to Jeff and reward him and his fellow marchers' gargantuan effort by helping us to raise even more than our £300k target.
In the penultimate day of walking, Jeff and his foot-soldiers negotiated flooded country lanes, torrential downpours and thundering motorways to enter the clutches of the capital at Watford. But a rafter of sporting celebrities kept the pace as high as the emotions at the finish, when total donations finally topped £250k.