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.
From: Luton Town To: Watford
Distance walked: 28 miles Total marchers: 60+
8am Almost a year since it was branded the Prostate Cancer UK Stadium for a season, Kenilworth Road was packed to the rafters with sporting celebrities (check below for the full glitzy roll-call). But Luton Town manager Mick Hartford – doubtlessly well used to running the rule over a pitch full of prima donnas – was unfazed and full of good wishes as he called the start on our penultimate day of the March to Watford.
9am Beyond the pavements of Luton, we suddenly found ourselves enveloped by some lovely, rolling Hertfordshire countryside. But every lane we crested often descended into a flooded hollow, where a squidgy grass bank would be our only way around.
11am Like the Tour de France, a lead peloton had broken away from the larger main group, headed by Jeff, Paul Merson, Tony Cottee and Bianca Westwood – the latter two absorbed in their shared enthusiasm for West Ham’s scintillating form this season. But the two groups finally came together again at our first pit-stop at the Cricketers pub in Redbourn, where the queue for the men’s was almost like half-time at Wembley.
11:30am Despite pacesetter Cottee leaving us at the pub, we were still chewing up the country lanes at a rate of licks, when a torrent of hailstones struck. It came down so hard that one marcher complained the redial on his mobile phone had been hit and he’d almost, quite literally, hailed a cab.
1:30pm We arrived at St Albans City FC’s Clarence Park for lunch, where Jeff was presented with a cheque for more than £500 by the former Arsenal legend Alan Smith. His excuse about an ankle injury precluding him from joining us on the walk got short shrift from his former teammate Merson, but Sky Sports’ Dickie Davies and Watford hero Luther Blissett came on board instead.
3pm A roar of traffic and some steep steps announced our arrival at the M25. Crossing over the footbridge, we were suddenly in the clutches of the capital and walking past Arsenal’s London Colney training ground. As chance would have it, Arsenal physio Vic Akers was just driving past and stopped to talk to Merson, but unfortunately there was no magic sponge on offer for his former player.
4pm Our final drinks stop at Radlett Golf Centre gave Jeff a chance to talk to some of the men with prostate cancer walking with him today, including Phill Coates. He was braving four back-to-back days of the March inside the lion costume of Sammy the Saint, St Albans City FC’s mascot, because of how indebted he felt to Prostate Cancer UK’s help in the aftermath of his diagnosis.
5pm After crossing high above the M1 and with just half an hour until we reached Vicarage Road, the heavens opened and we were thrashed with rain coming through the centre of Watford. It was still so torrential when we crossed the finish-line that we abandoned the customary pitch-side photo and congregated in the dressing room, where the emotion of a long day was compounded by news that we’d broken past £250k on our JustGiving page. Amazing!
5:45pm The Watford physios did a thorough job on the March’s leading duo, and Russ was particularly buoyant after a tough start to the day with a painful back. Both he and Jeff left the treatment room looking the best they’d looked since the start. They know how tantalising close they now are to their big Wembley finale.
Overheard on the hoof: "We're on the home straight. Only problem is that home straight is 50 miles long." (Jeff on a live interview to TalkSport this morning.)
Celebs spotted: Peter Taylor, Derek Payne, Gary Sweet, Gavin Shuker MP, Paul Merson, Luther Blissett, Mick Hartford, Bianca Westwood, Max Rushden, Alan Smith, Tony Cottee, Malky MacKay, Kingsley Black, Scott Oakes, Paul Walsh, Dickie Davis, Lawrence Levy, William Russell, Harry the Hornet, Sammy the Saint.
Marcher of the day: Phill Coates. "I wanted to give back to Prostate Cancer UK after receiving such fantastic support and advice from them when I was diagnosed with prostate cancer in August 2014."
Please donate to Jeff's gargantuan fundraising effort and help us smash our £300k target.
Setting out in the howls of Storm Katie, Jeff and his intrepid followers were soon rewarded with sunny country lanes and welcoming hostelries on their route to Milton Keynes from Northampton, which took them past the 200-mile point of the March.