When we play Preston North End this Saturday, it is our Community Trust Day – where we celebrate the work that our charitable arm does in Reading and the surrounding area. This year, our Community Trust have chosen to shine the light on the importance of mental wellbeing - and all week, we are bringing you stories about how our club gets involved.
A fortnight ago, a group of Reading supporters – and Fulham fans, for that matter – walked 40-ish miles overnight from Craven Cottage to Madejski Stadium, sharing their stories, raising money for Mind, and raising awareness of the importance of talking. This is Johnny Hunt’s blog…
Hi, my name is Johnny Hunt, I have mental health issues. There I said it, just as quick as ordering a coffee.
Does that define me?
No, it’s just part of who I am and I am okay with that. Are you okay?
The background of #WalkAndTalk
Two years ago, a group of Fulham fans, including Lee Adams, walked from Fulham to the Madejski before a game.
Lee then challenged Reading fans to do the return walk. Not wanting to be outdone by a Fulham fan, myself and Martin Sims, a fellow Royal, made sure we outnumbered him and off we went.
That walk raised £8,000 for Campaign Against Living Miserably (CALM), a mental health charity, and we had a lot of support from fellow fans and some interest from the club and local media which was good. 18 months later, Fulham had reportedly spent £100 million as they battled in vain against relegation, and we planned another walk.
We were ready to go again.
A nervous wait for fixture list, dreams of sunny walks in August? No chance – another evening fixture at the Madejski! The three musketeers agreed to reunite for the sequel ‘Walk and Talk’. Now, we had more walkers wanting to take part.
Matthew Angel Heath joined team Fulham as their own Welsh wing wizard, and fellow royals Dan Gabriel, Daniel Case, Shawn Hearn, Joel Kripps, Charlie Richardson and Sam West all agreed to join us.
Fans as young as 16 and 17 wanting to be part of it. The next generation, who can inspire others, amazing!
A WhatsApp group was started, as is the norm these days. Ideas aplenty to raise awareness for the walk.
The clubs, local press and radio said they would be right behind it. How about Soccer AM? Result! A shout out on the show. A mention in the Sun newspaper, thanks to Bizarre TV editor and Royals fan Andy Halls.
The EFL and Quest wanted a piece of the action too. This was really gaining momentum. The coverage was amazing, however our focus was – and always is – walking and talking mental health.
If what we do helps one person get the support they need, then that makes it so worth it. In a matchday crowd of 20,000 supporters, 5,000 of these people could be affected by a mental health issue. That is a scary statistic, but sadly true.
The start of our walk
We met at The Chancellors pub near Fulham’s ground, a quick drink and a get to know each other whilst it rained.
Craven Cottage next, and Fulham kindly let us use the press room to get ready.
At 9.30pm were off walking – in the rain. Following the River Thames onto Hammersmith, then Ealing. We were met by Paul Farmer, the CEO of mental health charity Mind, and also a fellow Royals fan. Lee gave a passionate speech about the importance of Walk & Talk.
19 hours of walking is a long time, and a great way to get to know people.
We all started to have conversations about why we were there. Some have their own issues, others have had friends or family affected by mental health issues. We were all united on one thing: we want to make a difference, and say it’s okay to talk.
In planning for the walk, we talked about what things we needed to bring. Daniel decided to pack the contents of his house and walk. What an effort! The footy banter, chants and discussions about favourite games and players. They really helped keep us going.
The night shift
Joel became obsessed with Costa Coffee; at every garage he asked the night worker to give him a free one. Eventually he got lucky!
On the way to Staines at 2.30am and we see a car on other side of road. Windows down. Flashing lights, a police car pulling up and the sound of Sweet Caroline. What the heck?
It was Martin Sims, our night warrior, who turned up at just right time with coffee, chocolate, talc and sombreros.
Next up according to Dan, our experienced army man, a little stroll up the hill in Egham and then we can take a break. Was he having a laugh? It went on forever…
Walking in the middle of the night, tired and sore, is hard work. However it helps you understand and appreciate the struggles, of someone affected by a mental health issue.
Next up? A marriage proposal! I rang my best friend in Australia and she agreed to marry Lee even if he only wants an Aussie passport.
Parts of the walk were very dark and gloomy. Watching my hometown club has helped me get through dark times. It has given me an identity and an escape when I needed it.
The random shouts of ‘CAR!’ in the pitch black ensured we didn’t lose anyone. We headed towards Ascot, in most welcome early morning daylight.
Over breakfast, we actually realised our Sam was the twin of Sam the Maccabees drummer. Matthew and Shawn the Bracknell Rain Wizard, were the glue of the team, keeping everyone ticking along.
The final stretch to Madejski Stadium
We made it in good time to Bracknell, where of course it rained. People were starting to slow now, as the efforts of the previous 14 hours kicked in.
Luckily the angel of chocolate Claire Saul arrived with supplies in Wokingham to spur us along a bit further. Paula Martin joined us and, with Dan's help, kept a determined, stubborn, almost-on-one-leg Charlie going until the finishing line at Madejski Stadium.
The euphoria was like winning a cup final. After 19 hours of soul searching, lung busting effort and amazing teamwork we had done it. Celebrations with a glass of champagne and a shower and many a well done followed from fans and players.
What happened on pitch? Typical of a Reading fan’s life we lost, but this was never about the game!
Walking and talking works for some. Sitting and talking works for others. Lee has had a clear vision for years that we all believe in.
In the future we would like to develop this movement further involving fans from all clubs. Clubs could hold get coffee mornings at grounds to bring people that are struggling together and offer support.
We would like to set up a charity to give back to the fans. This would including having professional counselling available at these events.
Thank to everyone who supported throughout the walk together we can make a difference.
If the walk has helped one person get the support they needed that’s what matters to all of us.
In ten years when my daughter is 18, I hope and believe that talking about mental illness will be as easy as ordering that cup of coffee.
Well done Johnny and all involved great effort for a even better cause. Enjoy the game 💙— Liam Moore (@liammoore93) October 1, 2019