Yup, another article about COVID-19 and football. Sorry about that.
As with virtually everybody across the globe, my life came to a grinding halt in mid-March due to the outbreak of the Corona Virus pandemic. Having never previously worked from home for even a day, I was instructed to turn my already old and barely working laptop into my work computer as well. Goodbye two monitors and a perfect internet connection, hello a screen the size of a postage stamp and a server that kept crashing every 10 minutes.
For one of the first years in a long time, I had quite a lot of plans in the diary for 2020. I was going to watch England play a test match at the Oval in June. Several of my favourite bands were coming to London, so had planned a number of fun days out with friends who I hadn’t seen in a while (essentially days of drinking, so by the time band came on we wouldn’t be able to see straight, let alone remember the gig). My girlfriend and I had even planned a two a half week trip to Canada, which was to be our first major holiday together.
Another major cancellation was the Manchester Marathon, which I was due to take part in on the 11th of April. Wisely, it was decided that forcing thousands of sweaty people next to each other on a narrow circuit, with even more people on the side-lines crammed in together, would not be the smartest move. Likewise, all major running events were initially postponed to the autumn, before being cancelled altogether.
Having completed the Brighton Marathon in 2018, then the London Marathon the following year, I was quite excited about heading north and attempting to beat my time. What was even more frustrating on a personal level was that I had just completed my longest run of the training programme, so was in as good as a condition to run the race as I’d ever been. I hadn’t eaten meat in a few months, and barely had a sniff of a pint since the New Year. Safe to say once lockdown was in effect, and with no race on the horizon, I ordered the unhealthiest food imaginable and got absolutely hammered.
I didn’t completely give up on running, as I used my one bit of allowed exercise per day to sprint around the local park, trying in vain to get myself onto the Strava leader boards, an effort which was, unfortunately, was largely in vain. With nothing to train for, it was quite hard to motivate myself to go out for any long period of time or for any real distance.
Fast forward a few months, and with football being back on our television screens essentially 24 hours a day, I had started thinking a bit more positively again. I was absentmindedly looking on Google Maps to see the distance between Arsenal and Tottenham’s grounds when an idea planted itself in my brain. Maybe I could work out the distance between all of the stadiums in the Premier League based in London, and run between them?
With a marathon being 26.2 miles, I was hoping I could find a route that would roughly be about that distance. Playing around with it a bit, I worked out that going from the Olympic Stadium to Selhurst Park, via the unoriginally named Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, the Emirates and Stamford Bridge was roughly that distance, if not ever so slightly over.
Bare in mind when I began to plan this it was the end of May, so relegation from the Premier League and the Championship playoffs had not yet been decided. Thankfully Watford did me a huge favour and shot themselves in not only the foot, but also the stomach and the face in the final few games to leave their season in tatters. I had been preparing my excuses about how they weren’t a proper London club anyway, as there was no way I’d have run all the way up to Hertfordshire and back just to keep a few people quiet. Bullet dodged.
The last day of the regular Championship season became incredibly intense, as I was crossing my fingers that Brentford wouldn’t go up automatically. I have nothing against them as a team, in fact, I’ve enjoyed watching them whenever I’ve caught them on TV. I even ranked their stadium as my favourite I’ve visited as an away fan (even though they are sadly moving out of it for next season). It was purely because there is no way I could argue they weren’t a London club, and that if they’d been promoted it would’ve added an extra 10 miles to the run.
So, I quietly rejoiced when they were beaten in dramatic fashion by Barnsley and dropped into the playoff places. They then made it to the final, where they faced another London side, Fulham. For those of you who don’t know their London geography, Craven Cottage is a stone’s throw away from Stamford Bridge, so while it would add on maybe an extra mile or so, which was nothing in comparison to a long trip out to the M4 and back. If I ever meet Joe Bryan, the two-goal hero of the playoff final I will gladly buy him a pint for saving my legs of all those extra, painful miles.
With the teams and grounds finally confirmed, I locked in the route. I cycled the route a few weeks ago, just so I had an idea of where I’ll be going on the day. Usually, when running a marathon all the roads along the route would be closed off to allow runners the pleasure of not being hit by cars while they’re making there way around the course. Despite considering emailing Sadiq Khan to ask if he could help me out, I came to the conclusion he probably wouldn’t bother if it was just me, and not 39,999 other people.
Safe to say it was tiring enough on a bike, let alone running it. It wasn’t helped by the torrential downpour for the first few hours, which I will be praying won’t happen on the day, I also made the decision that ending up at Crystal Palace, one of the highest areas of London and the surrounding areas probably wasn’t such a smart idea. While the views were delightful, the thought of going up such steep heels in the final few miles of a four-hour endurance race really did make me feel a little sick.
While it is my love of football, and want to see all the grounds in one day that was the initial thrust behind this idea, it also gives me an opportunity to raise some money for Shelter. If you aren’t aware of the great work they are doing, they are a charity who are looking to end homelessness and the bad housing issues that thousands of people in England face. With the economy absolutely tanking over the past few months, it is unfortunately inevitable that people will be made redundant, have their entire lives turned upside down, and in some cases forced out onto the streets. I had already planned to raise money for Shelter when I entered the Manchester Marathon, but feel even more proud to be running for them in October.
Training is well underway, with the aim to finish it in around 4 and a half hours. The last few weeks have seen both a searing heatwave and some incredible thunderstorms, so ideally I’d like that to all settle down by the 11th of October, when I lace up my shoes and hit the road. Any donations to Shelter, which can be done through the link of my Just Giving page below, would provide an extra boost of motivation.