(aka Around the Grounds for Street Soccer)
A little over a month ago I completed a 9-week cycling challenge to raise money for the Street Soccer Foundation. Here’s the story of that challenge and why MAIL MASTER is proud to be a Premier Business Supporter of The Street Soccer Foundation.
Why I Support Street Soccer...
I first met Keith Mabbutt – CEO & Founder of The Street Soccer Foundation – at a Kent Invicta Chamber of Commerce event back in 2019. Keith was speaking about his journey from professional footballer to entrepreneur to founding the Street Soccer Foundation to help vulnerable and homeless young people. Hearing Keith speak about the problems faced by the young people he helps immediately struck a chord. When I was a teenager, I made some, shall we say, “questionable” life decisions. I was mixing with the “wrong crowd” and was getting in trouble at school to such an extent that one teacher told my parents that he fully expected me to end up in prison. I could easily have gone completely off the rails but there were two things that stopped that from happening: my family and sport! Throughout my troubles I was lucky enough to have my family behind me. Their support was instrumental in helping me overcome my problems.
The other thing that helped me through that time was sport. For me that sport was cricket, but it could equally have been football, rugby or a host of others. Playing a team sport teaches you about teamwork, discipline, personal responsibility, and many other valuable life lessons. Having experienced first-hand the positive influence it could have made me keen to help it do the same thing for others.
Back in May the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) confirmed that no professional or recreational cricket would be played in England and Wales until at least July. In an effort to maintain team spirit, and give everyone something to focus during lockdown, my club – High Halstow CC - started a series of weekly running & cycling challenges based on the distance to the various clubs we would’ve been playing. These challenges gave me an idea for a personal fund-raising challenge.
I decided to use my daily exercise stint to cycle to the 9 grounds we (HHCC) were due to visit and raise some money for the Street Soccer Foundation through sponsorship. I mapped out routes using Strava and calculated that total distance I would have to cycle (with an allowance for detours) was between 700 and 750km. Now to all the cyclists out there that kind of distance over a 2-month period wouldn’t be anything special, but I don’t consider myself a cyclist. I’d dusted off my bike the day lockdown began and been for a few 25km rides for my 1-a-day exercise excursions but certainly hadn’t done anything to lay claim to the tag “cyclist”. When lockdown began there was some confusion as to how long you were allowed to spend doing your daily exercise. I felt that 2 to 2½ hours was reasonable and that I could manage round trips of 50-60km in that time. Based on that, my original idea was to physically visit the 3 or 4 closest grounds and to cycle the distance to the other grounds over 2 or 3 rides. As it happened the challenge evolved. Exercise restrictions were loosened, and my confidence grew which led to me deciding fairly early on that I’d try to visit all the grounds. That said, at that point, I wasn’t even considering taking on the 200km round trip to Walmer - the last leg of the challenge - in one go.
Week 1: 2nd May – Tonbridge
We weren’t actually due to play Tonbridge until 9th May but the weather was great and I was itching to get started so I decided to start a week early. This gave me the added bonus that should the weather be bad I’d have the option to postpone a future ride & still keep to my schedule. I was in something of a dilemma as my planned route suggested the round trip to Tonbridge was 70km so I had to decide whether to attempt the whole trip or to break it in two. In the end I thought “nothing ventured, nothing gained” and decided to take on the whole trip.
Distance: 74.00 km
Time: 3hrs 9mins
Grounds visited: Tonbridge, Cowdrey, Holborough Valley & Borstal
Week 2: 9th May – Downham & Bellingham
Buoyed by successfully completing the round trip to Tonbridge, I decided to attempt the longer trip to Downham and Bellingham. Fortunately, lockdown meant there wasn’t too much traffic on the roads of S.E. London. Strava calculated the route as 93km – it turned out to be 100! The first time I’ve ever hit a century in May!
Distance: 100.06 km Cumulative: 174 km Training: 118.6 km
Time: 4hrs 11mins Cumulative: 7hrs 20mins
Grounds visited: Downham & Bellingham & Cobham
Week 3: 16th May – Harvel
The round trip to Harvel should’ve been one of the shorter ones but, having visited some additional grounds on my first 2 trips, I decided to extend the distance and take the opportunity to visit some other nearby grounds.
Distance: 66.30 km Cumulative: 240.4 km Training: 123.9 km Cumulative: 242.5 km
Time: 2hrs 47mins Cumulative: 10hrs 7mins
Grounds visited: Harvel, Meopham, Addington, Offham, Kingshill & Cobdown
Week 4: 23rd May - Bromley Town
Another trip to S.E. London. Much of the route was the same as I’d cycled to Downham so I was reasonably confident I could manage it. What I hadn’t taken into consideration was the wind! I know it’s extremely unlikely that the whole 96km were into the wind, but it certainly felt like it!
Distance: 96.02 km Cumulative: 336.4 km Training: 128.9 km Cumulative: 371.4 km
Time: 3hrs 58mins Cumulative: 14hrs 5mins
Grounds visited: Bromley Town, Bromley & Bickley Park
Week 5: 30th May – Gore Court
The half-way point of the challenge was a trip to Gore Court: another of the more local grounds. As with Harvel I decided to take in some additional grounds which added an extra 20km or so. One of my teammates – Joe Taylor - from the cricket club joined me en route which meant I had a bit of company.
Distance: 78.57 km Cumulative: 415.0 km Training: 126.1 km Cumulative: 497.5 km
Time: 3hrs 19mins Cumulative: 17hrs 24mins
Grounds visited: Gore Court, Newington, Bapchild, Rodmersham & Borden
Week 6: 6th June – Rainham
6th June should have been my daughter’s wedding day, but thanks to COVID-19, instead of a suit I was wearing lycra for the trip to Rainham and back. Had Joe for company again so decided to ride out to Minster to visit a few more grounds. Could’ve been the shortest ride of the challenge but the extra grounds meant it wasn’t.
Distance: 70.41 km Cumulative: 485.4 km Training: 131.7 km Cumulative: 629.2 km
Time: 2hrs 53mins Cumulative: 16hrs 58mins
Grounds visited: Rainham, Lower Halstow, Upchurch, Minster & Frindsbury
Week 7: 13th June – Chislehurst & West Kent
Up to S.E. London again, this time with Joe in tow. Easing of lockdown restrictions meant a lot more traffic on the roads so parts of the ride were a little hairy. Took the scenic route home which meant less traffic but more hills – you win some, you lose some.
Distance: 87.84 km Cumulative: 573.2 km Training: 106.8 km Cumulative: 736.0 km
Time: 3hrs 40mins Cumulative: 17hrs 45mins
Grounds visited: Chislehurst & Hartley Country Club
Week 8: 20th June – Leeds and Broomfield
Penultimate leg of the challenge and the thought of the trip to Walmer was preying on my mind. Decided I needed a long ride for preparation so rather than go straight to Leeds & Broomfield and back I took a longer route and completed my 2nd century of the challenge.
Distance: 102.07 km Cumulative: 675.3 km Training: 128.1 km Cumulative: 864.1 km
Time: 4hrs 17mins Cumulative: 18hrs 22mins
Grounds visited: Leeds & Broomfield, Bearsted, Hunton & Yalding
Week 9: 27th June – Walmer
Decided on the Monday that I was going to attempt the whole 200km in one go! Racked with doubt as I’d never come close to cycling that far and the numbers were pretty daunting. To make matters worse, after 8 weeks of near perfect weather the forecast for the day of the ride was terrible. At 10pm the night before I was seriously considering postponing the ride as thunderstorms and 40mph winds were forecast for the following day. After a fitful night’s sleep, I woke to find that the threat of thunderstorms had passed so decided to press ahead as planned. Half an hour before I was due to leave the heavens opened but luckily it was only a passing shower and it was little more than light drizzle when I set off.
Conscious of the distance I set off at a steady pace. I’d arranged for a few people I know to meet up with me at various stages and ride with me, but I was on my own for the first stint. When I met up with Joe at around 35km I was feeling good; the rain had stopped and although it was breezy the wind wasn’t too bad. Other than a puncture in between Whitstable and Herne Bay the ride was fairly uneventful until we reached about 75km. It was around this point that we were joined by Roy and turned almost directly into the wind making the last 25km to Walmer a hard slog. Still feeling pretty good but trying not to think about the fact that I still had another 100km to go.
We had a nice tail wind for the first part of the return trip which made life easier. When we reached Herne Bay for the 2nd time the ride officially became my longest ever and I still had around 70km to go. After Roy left us just past Whitstable, Joe and I turned back into the wind which seemed to be blowing harder than ever. That, coupled with a slight incline, made the next 15-20km hard work. Joe left me when we reached Sittingbourne having cycled over 130km – I was at nearly 170 with around 35 still to go. The next 10km was a struggle: I was feeling tired and with no company self-doubt had begun to creep in. Luckily with about 25km to go I was joined by John & having someone to ride with gave me a 2nd wind. I finally arrived at High Halstow CC at around 5.30pm, some 10 hours after I set off and having done 8 hours and 40 minutes in the saddle. I was grateful to see a group of my friends who’d turned out to see me finish my ride – I just wish one of them had brought me a cushion…!
Distance: 202.89 km Cumulative: 878.2 km Training: 90.9 km Cumulative: 955.0 km
Time: 8hrs 40mins Cumulative: 22hrs 45mins
Grounds visited: Walmer, Whitstable & High Halstow
So that's the story of my Around The Grounds journey. It was hugely enjoyable and immensely challenging both mentally and physically. I found out a lot about myself along the way and I'm proud of what I achieved and the £1320 I managed to raise. If there's a moral to this story it's that you can achieve anything with a bit of determination and a positive mindset - if I can do it anyone can! As I said earlier in this post I don't consider myself to be a cyclist but maybe after this I can?