By Jeff Stelling, Soccer Saturday anchorman
The walking shoes are on again for the next marathon challenge with Prostate Cancer UK.
Four marathons, four countries, four days. We’ll be stopping at 16 new clubs between September 5-8 as we aim to break through the £1m raised for this disease that kills one man every 45 minutes. It’s a staggering statistic.
My idea was all our previous 25 marathons have been completed in England – but it’s Prostate Cancer UK. Of course, men in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland suffer just as much so we should get out there and bang the drum.
It’s not the same duration of walk as the first two – ten marathons in ten days before 15 in 15 – but it’s got its own difficulties.
Every day is a walk against the clock. We’ve got to get finished, get to the airport, get through security and on the last flight to our next destination so we’re ready to start the next morning.
We launched the ‘March for Men’ earlier this week by jetting around the UK in a day, starting out at Hampden Park, then Windsor Park in Belfast and Wales’ Principality Stadium via a short stint at Bristol. The whirlwind trip gave an idea of potential stumbling blocks. Belfast International Airport’s security was struggling, to say the least, to cope with the numbers!
Recovery between days it’s going to be one of the big problems. You can only set off in the morning at a certain time because the night before we often won’t arrive at the hotel until 10 or 11pm – then you’ve got to have enough time to recuperate.
On the other walks we could have a bit of physio at the end of the day, get to the hotel, have a nice long bath, a bite to eat – a beer – and recharge. That’s not going to happen this year because it’s all about the pressure of time.
It will be worth it, however, to get to the four home nations. We’ve met so many great people in the previous two challenges and hopefully this will also give us the chance to get some new celebrities along – although Paul Merson has already said he wants to do all four days and Matt Le Tissier wants to get involved again.
It’s also the international weekend. When we’re in Belfast it will be the night after they’ve played a friendly against Luxembourg and a few days before they play Germany – hopefully there will be a few celebs and pundits we can drag in. Their phones will be ringing soon!
If Hartlepool United’s season was being marked for a school report it would be: Satisfactory.
After all of the problems we had last season where the club’s future was in serious doubt, there’s plenty to be pleased about.
We sat down at the start of the campaign and the remit was for the manager to steer us to mid table of the National League with no worries about relegation and that would be OK. If we could just get the ship back on an even keel we could be satisfied.
That looks like how it will end. We’ve had three managers, which wasn’t the intention, but financially we’re not in the crisis we were.
Craig Hignett has taken over managerial duties again. He’s incredibly popular with the players. He’s got a sense of humour, can put his arm around a player and he knows the game. From a fans’ point of view, they want to see football on the front foot. They want attacking football and they hadn’t really seen that earlier in the season.
We started well but had a drastic dip in form. The Confidence dripped away. But, before the weekend, we only had two defeats in eight, we came back from two down in two games – you can see the boys are really playing for him.
When Jake Cassidy left to go back to Maidstone United he said the atmosphere was poisonous – and he wasn’t totally wrong. All fans want to see is players putting in a proper shift and they will get behind you.
I’m not for one minute suggesting Jake or any of the players weren’t putting the effort in but that’s what fans want to see, along with attacking action. That’s what they’re getting at the moment. We’ve got an incredibly young squad and the general outlook is pretty positive.
We can take heart from a club like Leyton Orient. They had to find their feet last season and now they are in the title race after taking the time to build.
They’ve got good owners now. They’ve landed on their feet with them and they deserved to because they’re a traditional club who have been through purgatory. I’m delighted to see them doing well and, obviously, I hope we can follow in their footsteps. But it’s not easy with the sort of money swishing around at this level.
Raj Singh and I don’t have that sort of money. Some of it is staggering but people are attracted by the potential of clubs.
Much like Salford. They’ve got the potential to not only become a Football League club, but maybe League One or even the Championship so they’re willing to invest that sort of money.
I hope we can finish this season strongly and give it a good push. I believe we’ve got good players, a decent squad and, although not every fan will agree with this, if we can finish top ten then that’s mission accomplished. For the moment…
Luke James is different class and it’s great for the lad to have been called up for England C.
He’s a genuinely nice young man and a model pro. You won’t see a forward work harder. He’s never really been prolific in front of goal, but he’s created so much for other players. Not necessarily direct assists but being hauled down for free-kicks or penalties – he’s a fantastic player to have in your side.
Josh Hawkes is another one. In the early parts of the season I would sit in the stand next to Higgy and say, ‘This is exactly the type of game where we need Josh Hawkes on’.
As soon as Craig took over, Josh has been a regular starter. He’s a great creative, free spirit, within the team. I’m absolutely certain he will play at a higher level.