Kick Ball Pedal Bike
The plan was to cycle around all the football grounds within the M25 from the Conference South up to the Premier League a week before the World Cup. From the Barnet’s fortress Underhill to Arsenal's Emirates, From Welling United FC to Chelsea. The spiralling route spinning around London clocked up at 150 miles, same distance as London to Barnsley as the crow flies. The ride finished up at Wembley, like a club reaching the FA cup final, taking in 22 grounds on the way. All this peddling was to raise money for two great charities, The Southall Black Sisters and the LCC.
The thought to do this popped into my head when I found myself getting over-excited about the football World Cup nine months too early. Contrary to a lot of cyclists, football and cycling sit quite nicely together in my head. Some cyclists seem to get a bit green about the money and attention that is thrown at football but what could be better than peddling out to game? I realise I’m biased; a good Saturday for me would be spent riding out to Oxford to see Barrow AFC scrape a draw against Oxford United in the FA cup.
To begin with I was just going to do the ride on my own but someone suggested making it a charity ride and it seemed like a good idea and a positive way to channel my excitement for the World Cup. I chose to raise money for the Southall Black Sisters, a charity who provide support and shelter to families suffering from domestic violence. They are a small London charity that delivers a lot on a small budget. I knew that whatever I could scrape together from this small ride would be welcomed by them. Choosing the London Cycling campaign as the other charity was easy as I love cycling in London and with its massive army of volunteers LCC keeps making it better and better.
I had never organised a charity ride before and to be honest I’ve never been that big a fan of them. In order to get sponsor money out of my tight fist you have truly suffer in the event you are doing. At the risk of sound a bit ‘Daily Express’, not a week goes by without someone asking me to sponsor them to climb a mountain, scuba dive or something just as fun. My favourite one recently was a colleague who asked me to sponsor her to horse-ride across Iceland (the country not the shop). That to me sounds like a holiday, not an arduous task which is deserving of my pennies. I’m sure you’re not surprised to hear I did see my Kick Ball Pedal Bike cycle worthy of sponsorship – 150 miles on the congested and hot streets of London, stopping every 10 minutes at traffic lights to view such delights as Heathrow Airport and the SELCHP waste incinerator. This was no pleasure ride through French countryside to Paris.
The ride was for a specialised group of geeks, people who like long urban rides and love football. This combined with the 6am start at White Hart Lane led to a small turn-out, just 29 people rode on the day, but what a group! The camaraderie, vigour and spirit of the pedallers was gigantic and the day was better than watching Leeds lose the play-off final. People joined and left the group at different grounds adding new energy and faces over the day, keeping the legs of the four riders who completed the entire 150 miles pumping. It took us 18 hours to get to Wembley, climbing and descending 3162 feet on the way, the equivalent to height to Scafell.
It wasn’t all plain sailing though. I don’t know if you have ever been faced with the dilemma of how to get from Welling United to Thurrock FC on a bike, but it’s a tough one. Do you go back on yourself and take the Woolwich ferry or do you risk the Dartford crossing? I opted for the Dartford crossing; who can resist the link between Bluewater and Lakeside? Testing the route out a few months before the ride I discovered you can’t just ride across the Dartford crossing. I rolled down the slip road to the crossing only to be pulled over by a security woman in a Land Rover who gave me a good telling off while try to confiscate my camera, claiming I was a terrorist. She calmed down when she saw my camera was full of shots of football stands and realised I was just a harmless nerd. Eventually she called for a very nice man who drove me and my bike across the Thames. On the ride itself I was asked to ring ahead to warn them of the group approaching. When I did I was told they were too congested to get us across, due to an accident. So we tracked back to the Woolwich ferry and to everyone’s disappointment we had to miss out Thurrock FC; a fine ground where I once saw Barnet’s Women tonk West Ham’s. The to-ing and fro-ing still put us over the 150-mile mark and I was happy with that.
On the final leg of my route check I decided to finish off at Wembley to watch England complete a promising win over Egypt (champions of Africa) just before the World Cup. I wandered out of the stadium quite buoyant, only to discover that my bike had been nicked from under the noses of 100,000 fans and hundreds of police men. I asked a steward if he had seen anything and he said, “I wondered what that noise was, it sounded like a saw, probably your bike being stolen.” Humph.
These were really minor setbacks and quite amusing with hindsight. I really enjoyed the ride, not just reaching Wembley’s arch but also seeing a group of strangers come together to help egg each other on right through the day. So inspired by organising the ride, I have been thinking up new ways to suffer on my bike and currently have two ideas rolling around my head. First, another Kick Ball Pedal Bike ride which would go to every team which wins a league this season; in theory this would take us on a random ride right across the country. Second, I like the idea of a Speedos and Flip Flops ride from London to Hastings – running straight from the saddle to the sea at arrival. For the time being though I’ll settle for a ride through the Essex countryside to see Braintree Town (The Iron) face Hampton and Richmond Borough (The Beavers).
After all that effort England still stunk out South Africa, boo.