Hartlepool United gave Jeff Stelling a gobsmacking Easter surprise on a largely sunny leg from Coventry to Leicester, with Hangus the Monkey ensuring everybody was kept entertained as the marchers finally said goodbye to the Midlands and move on to the South.
From: Coventry City To: Leicester City
Distance walked: 25 miles Total marchers: 25+
8am The Ricoh Arena was bathed in sunshine and the memories of an England victory over Germany were still as fresh and sweet as the spring morning air for our start at Coventry. There was no Easter Bunny to greet us. But far better, we had Hangus the Monkey join us all the way from Hartlepool. The hug that reunited him with Pools CEO, Russ Green, was a touching moment for all of us.
9am The first few miles of level trails and gentle towpaths were a real pleasure and Hangus had an enthusiastic wave and a thumbs up for every passer-by. He had competition in the mascot stakes, though: Sammy the Saint, from St Albans City FC, had joined us for the first of his four days on the March. (The man underneath the lion’s head, Phil Coates, has his own story to tell about prostate cancer, which we’ll be sharing on Day 9.)
10am At a sleepy Bulkington village, Jeff nipped into a very accommodating local Spar shop to use the facilities, while one of the March organisers reminded us of what Easter’s really about by handing out Crème Eggs all round. Jeff then nipped off again for a live relay to Goals on Sunday, where he challenged presenter Ben Shephard to join us on the March. Go on Ben, you know you want to!
Midday Lunch was at the wonderful Red Lion pub in Burbage, where a small crowd cheered us in from the beer garden. While Jeff wished a happy 50th birthday to the landlord’s clearly delighted wife, fellow marchers Mel and Marian Davis were embraced by their extended family, who had been waiting for their arrival. Their story of coming together to survive and battle prostate cancer is truly inspiring, and one Jeff heard in person from Mel in the afternoon.
1:30pm A treacherous stretch of muddy fields and awkward stiles before lunch had taken their toll on Jeff and Russ’ sore feet and needed emergency bandaging at the pub. But the overwhelmingly friendly reception from locals as we passed through the small villages of Bramcote, Burbage and Sapcote seemed to banish any discomfort. After every autograph and selfie Jeff did came the satisfying chink of generous donations in the collection bucket.
3:45pm Entering another village, Narborough, we turned a blind corner to come face-to-face with the full ranks of Hartlepool United, whooping and cheering beside their team bus. Jeff was absolutely gobsmacked, while Russ looked quietly pleased that the secret surprise he had planned had exactly the desired effect, lifting us just when a huge downpour had begun to sullen our moods. Nice one Russ.
6:05pm The remaining miles to Leicester were tough going, but a rainbow overhead and the warm applause of lots of supporters, family and friends at the King Power Stadium made it all worthwhile. Even Filbert the Fox had a supportive hug for his rival mascots, Hangus and Sammy. Jeff and Russ’ massages were that bit longer this evening as their bodies began to struggle with the wear and tear of seven days’ hard walking. But with tomorrow's start-line in Northampton, the two friends can congratulate themselves on having now conquered the North and Midlands on foot.
Overheard on the hoof: “Woof! Woof! Woof!” (Hangus the Monkey warding off a chippy dog in woods outside Hinkley.)
Celebs spotted: Hartlepool United, Alan Birchenhall, Hangus the Monkey, Sammy the Saint, Filbert the Fox, Russ Green.
Marchers of the day: Mel Davis and family. “It was a huge shock when I was diagnosed, especially as my brother was suffering from the same disease. But my wife, Marian, has been my rock.”
Please donate to Jeff's gargantuan fundraising effort and help us smash our £300k target.
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.