It was cold, wet and windy on a testing West Midlands leg that took in the great football clubs in and between Wolverhampton to Birmingham. But with chipper ex-footballers and inspiring prostate cancer survivors spurring everyone on, nothing could wipe the smile from Jeff's face.
From: Wolverhampton Wanderers To: Birmingham City
Distance walked: 22 miles Total marchers: 40+
8:10am With no sign of yesterday’s sun in the overcast Black Country sky, we were waved off the starting line outside Molineux by Wolves director and former England cricket captain Dame Rachael Heyhoe Flint. The club’s CEO, Jez Moxey, and former manager Graham Turner were among our ranks, as was wheelchair athlete Ben Rowlings. Onwards to Walsall!
10am Jeff looked dwarved walking alongside the giant figure of Matt Murray – another Wolves alumni and now a fellow Sky pundit. With them was Matt Perry, the Wolves club doctor, who had bravely just gone public with his own prostate cancer diagnosis.
11:10am Ben Rowlings blistered his hands as he gamely took on the bumpy narrow towpaths coming into Walsall’s Banks’s Stadium with his wheelchair. There he left us and Jeff was whisked off to do back-to-back live appearances on Soccer AM and Sky News. Apparently, text donations took a sharp rise as he did so – that smile of his is worth its weight in gold.
1:40pm Having braved the graffitied chasm under the M6, we arrived in West Bromwich for a pit-stop lunch at the Hawthorns. Here, Premiership referee Andre Marriner joined us and his dad, Lester, who had first-hand experience of prostate cancer. Jeff joked that it was surely Andre’s best decision all season. Perhaps it was the exposed position of the Football League’s highest ground, but from here on the weather started to cool markedly and the rains began…
3:30pm Any dampened spirits were instantly revived at a bouncing Villa Park, though, where a crowd of young people applauded us into the ground and a clearly thrilled Arden Forest under-8s were eager to be photographed with Jeff on the pitch. Even Villa legend Ian Taylor and the club mascot, Hercules, had to wait their turn.
4:15pm Former Villa player and Sky pundit, Alan McInally, couldn’t help bemoan the recent decline in his club’s fortunes as we headed through the urban hinterlands of Birmingham. But he also had a chance to talk to the inspiring Brian Harrison about his experience of living with advanced prostate cancer, and shared stories of his and his wife’s fathers’ diagnoses with the disease.
5:15pm The rain became torrential as we neared St Andrews, but Alan and Matt Murray were tremendous in spurring us all on and picking up any stragglers. Drenched through, Jeff and Russ Green gave each other their now ritual embrace as they crossed the finish line, before the trademark Stelling pearly whites were back on display for the awaiting media.
5:30pm As we dried out at the bar, Birmingham City’s club director, Panos Pavlakis, presented Jeff with the club’s away shirt, knowing full well Jeff had very publicly stated he loathed the strip when he’d first seen it on TV. But Jeff was delighted. Nothing – not even the cold, wind and rain of the West Midlands – could knock the smile of his face today.
Overheard on the hoof: "Take the number 93 bus out of town." (Dame Rachael Heyhoe Flint’s words of advice for Jeff at the start-line in Wolverhampton.)
Celebs spotted: Matt Murray, Rachael Heyhoe Flint, Ben Rowlings, Alan McInally, Russ Green, Andre Mariner, Jez Moxey, Stefan Gamble, Graham Turner, Ian Hamilton, Daryl Burgess, Ian Taylor, Matt Perry, Panos Pavlakis.
Marcher of the day: Heather Ashton. "If my efforts can prompt just one man to go for a test, it will be worth a few blisters."
Please donate to Jeff's gargantuan fundraising effort and help us smash our £300k target.
Jeff proclaimed it his best day yet, as the sun shone on a beautiful waterside route around the Trent Valley, taking Jeff and his faithful followers to the halfway point of his epic journey, from Derby to Nottingham via Burton. A Hartlepool win, a lively Paul Merson and a brace of footballing and Olympic legends made the going all the more enjoyable.