Last weekend, legendary Soccer Saturday presenter Jeff Stelling announced he would once again be stepping out against prostate cancer on an epic March for Men. In the first of his exclusive columns for Prostate Cancer UK, he explains why he's lacing up his boots again to take on 15 walking marathons in 15 days, from Exeter to Newcastle, in June this year.
“Hello Wembley!” That’s what I said when we finished our 10 marathons in 10 days in March last year. We took Hartlepool United to Wembley, somewhere they’ve never been, and in doing so raised more than £420,000 to help stop prostate cancer being a killer.
This year it’s going to be “Hello St James' Park” at both the start and the end, as we aim to walk almost 400 miles from Exeter City to Newcastle United's football grounds. It’s more miles, more clubs and more people marching across a part of the country we didn’t reach last year as we continue to spread this most serious of messages.
I thought when we’d finished at Wembley that was me done
Last year was an amazing and humbling experience. I met so many people with inspiring stories about their own personal fight against prostate cancer or someone close to them.
Like Lloyd Pinder, a 44-year-old from Leeds, diagnosed with advanced prostate cancer and about to undergo chemotherapy, who shrugged that all off to join us for an unforgettable day in Leeds and on the final road to Wembley. Lloyd raised over £6,000 walking with me, and has gone on to raise even more. What a hero!
I thought when we’d finished at Wembley, that was me done. After the agony and ecstasy of the walk last year, particularly the agony, I thought enough! But since then, so many people have been in touch with me – people with stories of their fight against prostate cancer. It’s inspired me to do something once again. I just decided I couldn’t sit on my backside and do nothing about it. So here we are.
It's been all change at Hartlepool United. I hope Dave Jones read the small print in his contract committing him to walking a leg
For those of you following the march last year, you’ll know we kicked off from Hartlepool United’s Victoria Park. It’s my team, and at the time my mate Russ Green – who walked all ten days with me – was the CEO of the club.
But it’s been all change since then. Russ left for a new challenge in the summer last year, and he’s now in charge at Rochdale (we’ll be popping to Spotland on 7 June on the way to Boundary Park). Despite their FA Cup exit to Huddersfield Town at the weekend, Rochdale are comfortably in the play offs in League 1, having only lost four times in 29 games this season. We’ll be hearing more from Russ later in the season.
As well as saying goodbye to Russ, much more recently ‘Pools parted company with another good friend of mine: manager Craig Hignett.
Craig joined me on the opening day last year and was responsible for an incredible morale-boosting moment on Day 7, when he and the whole squad met us in a damp and dreary Midlands en route south to Leyton Orient. What other club would do that?
Sadly Craig has left the club to be replaced by Dave Jones. I hope he read the small print in his contract as I'm sure there is a clause committing him to walking a leg in 2017.
As many of you will have seen, I announced my March for Men on Soccer Saturday last week. It’s early days but we’ve had a great response so far.
The Sun, who supported me throughout last year, are back on board. And a little bird tells me columnist Paul Jiggins may join us for some of the walk. He can make his own headlines as well as write inspiring stories about the March. I was guest columnist in The Football League Paper and Non-League Paper, am on the Sky Sports website, and the local papers at the start and finish of the route are already on board.
Hopefully the boys in the studio will be getting their boots on again – even Thommo this time. It’s not just the world of football getting involved either. Before the show I got a call from my mate, former England cricketer Dominic Cork, to say he can’t wait to get involved.
With the Six Nations starting at the weekend, former England scrum-half Dewi Morris will be pretty busy. But he's told me he wants to join the March, and with the Great Britain and Ireland Lions touring New Zealand at that time, there'll be plenty to chat about