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A football challenge with a difference

17th June 2016

Earlier this spring hospice supporter David Pearson took on a Premiership League football challenge with a difference to raise money to help St Richard’s care for patients at the end of their lives and support their loved ones.

For five days in April, David travelled the length and breadth of England, visiting every football club stadium in the League, all in memory of his wife Judy, who was cared for by St Richard’s.

So far, he has received promises of donations of autographed club shirts or other merchandise from 18 of the 20 Premier League clubs and these will be auctioned to raise funds for the hospice. Friends, family and colleagues have also helped him raise an additional £1600 to support hospice care.

After his challenge we caught up with David and asked him about his experience.

Did your trip meet your hopes and expectations?

Undoubtedly – the whole thing was intended to raise awareness of the hospice by undertaking something a little unusual, and which might generate both publicity and much needed funds for the hospice. Throughout the planning of the idea, and the actual week away, everyone was impressed with what I was doing and why.

Most people are aware of what a hospice is and does, but until you are directly involved for whatever reason, the understanding that it is there for support of all forms of terminal illness is not something people maybe understand. That Judy had Alzheimer’s and attended a Day Hospice of activity, fun and enjoyment, meeting friendly people and still being able to live a full and enjoyable life during her illness seemed inspirational to people, and obviously those people at the various clubs who met me, showed me around and asked questions about why I was doing it.

Did you find that being in the hospice car prompted conversations about your challenge?

Yes, people generally looked at the car as they were passing to see what the logo and the car represented, and along with the poster I put in the windows explaining the reasons behind the road trip asking people to honk their horn in support. I did get lots of people doing that and putting their thumbs up as they drove past me or vice versa.

The ability to post updates and progress on Twitter and Facebook was also important, and the hospice being able to retweet and thank the clubs as I made progress round the country generated interest and conversation. I’ve never been terribly keen on social media, but for something like this, to publicise, and raise awareness, simply can’t be underestimated.

What was the most challenging aspect of your challenge?

I guess the most challenging aspect was the day driving around London. Fitting the five London clubs into one day, bearing in mind the traffic and also the fact it was the day of the Queen’s 90th birthday celebrations, so London was busy, meant I was always going to be pushing for time. Setting off from my digs in North London at 6.45am to get to the Emirates at Arsenal, then to White Hart Lane before crossing London for the first time to Chelsea was time consuming.

From then it took me around two hours to drive across London again, to get to West Ham, before setting off for the final ground at Crystal Palace. I had to do each club within “working hours” to ensure I could get in for the obligatory pitchside photograph, and pulled into Selhurst Park at 4.55pm, so it was quite tight!

The nature of the stop/start driving across the capital was perhaps the most tiring or demanding physically, but it was made worthwhile by it becoming something of a sightseeing trip – The GPO Tower, Baker Street, Hyde Park Corner, Harrods, Trafalgar Square, the Houses of Parliament, the London Eye – amongst others. Shame I couldn’t stop to look around!  It did of course mean that I had to cross Boris Johnson’s palms with my London congestion charge!

Did you meet anyone inspirational along the way?

Interesting question, and I guess, yes in a way I did. Perhaps meeting the people at Bournemouth FC, who as the smallest club in the Premier League, have shown just what can be achieved, and have more than justifiably earned themselves another season in the top flight.

They were very welcoming, and interested in what I was doing, and we had chance to talk about their hopes and plans briefly. I think the key phrase we came up between us, and something which can be applied to people and all walks of life is “Live the dream”. Few would have given them much chance of surviving for two seasons or more, but they have proved just what can be achieved.

The other meeting on the trip was the chance to say a very personal thanks to a guy who worked for Manchester United on the switchboard, and who was hugely helpful in directing me to their Community Team who then kindly donated a signed player photograph. Jack, the guy concerned, was very helpful and we must have chatted for 6-7 minutes whilst he found who to put me through to, and showed great enthusiasm for and professionalism in his job.  Two hours after the conversation I was amazed to discover he had been onto my JustGiving page and made a donation of £10 to the cause!  So the chance to meet him and say a very personal thank you, was a big moment for me.

Did you have any mishaps or worry that you might not make your timescales?

No mishaps or such, but inevitably finding your way to a ground, even with satnav, was occasionally interesting.

In Newcastle for example, the ground was barely 300 yards from my hotel, but in the car, finding my way to it around the one-way system was slightly challenging! I’d had to plan the route to enable me to do grounds during working hours, and then drive to the next venue maybe early evening, so that was something which took several versions before settling on the final route (and even that got changed once in London, when I went to Chelsea sooner than expected!).

What was your most memorable moment of the week?

I guess there were two memorable moments really. The first, and perhaps most emotional was visiting the Emirates, as Arsenal were the club Judy enjoyed watching, although she was never a committed football fan. She always looked for their results and one of the last Christmas presents I bought her, was an Arsenal shirt, as a little bit of a giggle. That made things very real for me, and to bring home just why I was doing it. They were very friendly there, and treated me like royalty, and sitting in Arsene Wenger’s seat to have a photograph taken was special. Judy loved her cuddly toys, so I bought a small teddy with Arsenal crest embroidered on it as my souvenir of the trip.

The other was to go to Leicester. To see their changing room with all the shirts laid out, and one in particular – that of Jamie Vardy – was memorable. Why? Well, my football team, and the side I’ve supported since I was 8, is Halifax Town, and Jamie Vardy was bought by Halifax from non-league obscurity before selling him to Fleetwood and consequently Leicester City, where the rest as they say ….  He is the only Halifax player ever to go on to play for England, so seeing his shirt and recognising what he has achieved too.

How did the clubs respond to your challenge?

Leicester was special of course, in light of just what they have achieved, to go from relegation certainties almost, to winning the Premier League, is just the stuff of fairytales and dreams. They were rightly very proud of what they were likely to achieve – there were still five games to go when I visited, so nothing was certain – and of their being a community club. Leicester was also the city I was driving through when I stopped at some traffic lights, and the couple in the car at the side of me looked at my picture of Judy and the reason behind the trip, and before we set off, wound the window down and gave me a couple of pounds towards the cause, which was a very touching gesture!

Manchester United also treat me like royalty, and were really genuinely interested and keen to make sure my visit to Old Trafford was great.  Arsenal of course, I’ve already mentioned, and they too had been very helpful from the early request for support to the visit itself.

All that said, I think it only right that I should thank all clubs for their help, hospitality and generosity. Not surprisingly they all get inundated with similar requests to support charitable causes, and at the end of the day they are commercial businesses, so to be as generous as they all were, with time and donations, was hugely appreciated. The staff I saw at all the grounds were keen to make sure I got the photographs I wanted, and the chance to see their stadium, and to wish me success for the rest of the fundraiser.

What was the funniest moment of the week?

Apart from thinking I couldn’t start the car in the hospice, live on Radio Hereford & Worcester on the first morning? It could have been a very short trip!!

The other moment was the look on the face of one of the Watford staff, who found me wandering round inside the ground at Vicarage Road, and realising that perhaps their security arrangements weren’t as tight as they thought! In fairness they were doing some building work, which meant one of the gates was open, and the builders told me to go down the inside of the stadium and out of the gate at the bottom end to find the Reception Desk!

Would you do it again?

Yes, without doubt, but maybe whatever I do next fundraising-wise should be different, so people enjoy following another idea and generously donating money, although I may have to wait whilst they save up to do it again!

It will be interesting to see what happens over the next few months as the items the clubs donated are auctioned off by the hospice at various events and activities, and I look forward to seeing what the total amount the idea raised gets to. People have been keen to tell me that Judy would have been proud of me, doing the challenge. If it somehow makes a difference to people’s lives in her name and memory, that’s what will have made it worth every moment.

To make a donation to David’s fund, please visit www.justgiving.com/david-pearson31