Stephen's marathon football trek
By Dave GooderhamDESPITE professing a love for driving, football fan Stephen Walker happily admitted he had never taken his car beyond East Anglia. But the garage forecourt manager has now combined his two passions by clocking up 2,500 miles to visit 100 soccer grounds in just two weeks - all in the name of charity.
By Dave Gooderham
DESPITE professing a love for driving, football fan Stephen Walker happily admitted he had never taken his car beyond East Anglia.
But the garage forecourt manager has now combined his two passions by clocking up 2,500 miles to visit 100 soccer grounds in just two weeks - all in the name of charity.
Mr Walker's journey took him to the dugout at Manchester United's famous Old Trafford stadium and earned him a hallowed place seated next to Michael Owen's shirt at Anfield, home of fellow Premiership giants Liverpool.
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Along the way, the 27-year-old Charlton Athletic fan met larger-than-life Peterborough boss Barry Fry and ex-England and Manchester City winger Mike Summerbee during a memorable 14 days.
Mr Walker, a diabetic, said his remarkable journey had been organised in just six weeks and had involved visiting an average of eight grounds a day.
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“It has always been an ambition of mine to visit as many football grounds as possible. The whole thing was absolutely fantastic and I managed to get to parts of the ground you are not used to seeing - like the dugout at Old Trafford,” he added.
“Two weeks ago, I had never driven out of East Anglia - now I have driven all the way to Scotland and back.
“It is difficult to say what the best ground was. You see Old Trafford or Celtic Park every day on the television, so I was really keen to visit tiny grounds in Scotland.”
Having carried out a trial run at the homes of Ipswich Town, Colchester United and Norwich City, Mr Walker embarked on the arduous mission from the comfort of his blue Seat car on April 19 when he visited Peterborough United's London Road ground and the irrepressible Mr Fry.
Moving up through the North, he spent three days in Scotland - taking in a Division One game between Queen of the South and Brechin - before enjoying a well-deserved two-day break in Blackpool.
But Mr Walker was soon back on the road and overcame last week's torrential rain to complete his journey on Wednesdayat the Abbey Stadium, home of Cambridge United.
Reflecting on the feat, he said: “The three days in Scotland were absolutely fantastic as I had never been before and everyone was very welcoming and interested.
“Last week was raining a lot and the grounds were more spread out, which meant more driving in my car.
“I took in on average eight grounds a day, but sometimes this would rise to 10, especially in the North where the grounds are so close together.
“The whole thing just appealed to me. My kind of holiday is doing something I find interesting and not just lazing on the beach.”
Mr Walker, of Hill Close, Newmarket, was quick to praise his 55-year-old father, Stuart, who played a crucial role in ensuring his son did not get lost.
“My whole family were very supportive and my father, who is disabled, sat at home with a route planner directing me to the grounds. I think he got a lot out of the trip as well,” he said.
Mr Walker has already raised more than £1,200 for Bury St Edmunds-based St Nicholas Hospice as a result of the trip and is now organising a charity auction using the many signed kits and balls he collected on his travels.