Former Arsenal and Scotland goalkeeper and TV pundit Bob Wilson is aiming to cycle to every Premier League football ground next month in the name of charity. The 550-mile Bob Wilson Soccer Cycle ride will take him 11 days, starting in London and finishing in Newcastle. He’ll also ride to Hampden Park, Glasgow, although not from Newcastle.
The ride is in aid of the Willow Foundation, a charity set up by Bob and his wife Megs after their daughter Anna died of a rare form of cancer aged just 32. The charity provides ‘special days’ for seriously ill people aged 16-40 – which might be a trip to Alton Towers or London, for example, a drive in a sports car, or a break at the coast for the recipient and their family.
“The aim is to highlight the challenges that seriously ill people face every day, and to raise awareness of how a special day can make a difference when it’s needed most,” said Bob. “We’re aiming to raise a minimum of £250,000, which is a huge target. Hitting it would mean fulfilling hundreds more special days.”
Bob, who was an ever-present member of the Arsenal team that won the League and Cup double in 1970-71, turns 70 this year and has two artificial hips. Until recently he had only been a recreational cyclist, although he has stepped things up over the past six months in preparation for the ride.
“I’ve been riding 25-40 miles a day for the past six months,” said Bob. “There are two others riding the whole route: Steve Cliffen, who is a former headmaster of a special school, and David Tweddell, who was a reserve for the British Olympic cycling team for Melbourne way back in 1956. He’s 78 and still incredibly fit.
“There will be the occasional celebrity too, either on the bike or certainly at all the 20 Premier League grounds that I go to. And we will have a special-day recipient – someone who has had a Willow special day and/or their family – at the media stops to tell people about the impact the special day has had.”
“The hills remain the most challenging bit for me. The worst part of the journey comes when I’ll be very tired. After the clutch of clubs up in the northwest – Man Utd, Man City, Wigan, Bolton, Liverpool, Everton, Blackburn and Blackpool – we’ll get to Lancaster and have a five or six mile climb that I’m not looking forward to! I’m very confident I’ll get around, though, because I have huge backup.”
Mat has been in cycling media since 1996, on titles including BikeRadar, Total Bike, Total Mountain Bike, What Mountain Bike and Mountain Biking UK, and he has been editor of 220 Triathlon and Cycling Plus. Mat has been road.cc technical editor for over a decade, testing bikes, fettling the latest kit, and trying out the most up-to-the-minute clothing. We send him off around the world to get all the news from launches and shows too. He has won his category in Ironman UK 70.3 and finished on the podium in both marathons he has run. Mat is a Cambridge graduate who did a post-grad in magazine journalism, and he is a winner of the Cycling Media Award for Specialist Online Writer. Now pushing 50, he's riding road and gravel bikes most days for fun and fitness rather than training for competitions.