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Crystal Palace FC to Arsenal FC

Updated: Jun 16, 2020

Author: Pete Trainor

"Are you sure you don't want a birthday party with your mates?"

”Positive dad, I want to march on the Emirates with all our walk-and-talk friends!”

Sunday 27th October 2019 will be memorable for so many reasons. We came from 2-0 down to draw with Arsenal. Granit Xhaka lost his rag and got involved in THAT angry confrontation with his own supporters. Unai Emery kissed good-bye to his job. Ayew got us the draw… And it was also my son Charlie's 10th birthday. But instead of having the sort of birthday party most 10 year olds would ask for, he was dead-set that we were going to march the 13.5 miles from Selhurst Park to the Emirates to support the Eagles and men's mental health. He wanted to help 60 of us from all walks of life raise awareness of the issues that we’ll all face at some point in our life. He knows his old man gets a lot out of these long walks with the football family, and that they’ve really helped me through some tough times too.

The legend Charlie enjoying his birthday cake with all his Walk and Talk friends

Being a palace fan has always had its ups and downs, in some ways it's sport imitating life. You’re up one day and down the next. But one thing is constant in life; brilliant people will always drag you forward when you feel like there's no place to go. That's the essence of these walks. Moving us forward.

We did our first walk and talk in February 2019 from Craven Cottage to Selhurst Park. Several more happened throughout the year. But that sunny day in October 2019 will always be a really special day for me. We talked with so many great people. Swapped a lot of good stories. Offered each other a lot of good advice. Sang on the steps of St Pauls like the happiest people alive, smiled, laughed, cried and ate birthday cake.

These walks are more than just rival football fans putting their differences to one side for a day, they represent a safe space for us all to tell each other we’re not coping. Or let someone else know that you feel vulnerable, and it's OK for them to feel that way too. It also teaches the younger fans, like my son, that there's no point trying to feel, or pretending to be invincible. We’re not, and that's OK. It's not easy discovering you’re just a fragile human, but it shouldn’t be impossible to deal with it. These walks provide us with that platform. They’re our safe place not to be OK. And that's OK.

I’d had a really tough year last year. My business had been decimated by Brexit. My mental health had been battered by selfish people who took advantage of me and also took a lot of shots at me. It was touch and go there for a while. But throughout the year I had football, the walks, and the friends I’d made along the way to pick me up. October 27th was certainly the perfect pick-me-up. I hadn’t felt that liberated from life's troubles for a long time.

As the march towards the Emirates unfolded, I realised just how important these moments were to both myself, and my son. He doesn't just see it as something for him to get his football fix from, he sees it as a place for his dad to get the support he needs -- giving kids the knowledge that their parents have support structures is a huge huge thing.

All the walkers go out for themselves, but in unity they create a shield for each other.

So we walk. We talk. We spend the day stomping the streets of London and singing songs, but more importantly we’ve got each other backs.

When Palace pulled one back before half-time with a Luka Milivojevic penalty the Red and Blue went wild. We all screamed and hugged and jumped on the seats. The holmesdale boys let off their smoke grenade, and as I looked around I could pick out the faces of 58 other people who’d already won that day. When I looked down at the 59th face, this newly crowned 10-year-old, he said: ”this is the best birthday ever”... And he didn’t mean because of that goal. He told me after the match that he’d walk to every match if he could. Because it makes us both feel safe. I think I would too.

Walking and talking has become a very special thing. A life-saver in a lot of ways. Long may we march.

Watch the video here

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