Updated: Jul 26
Author: Pete Trainor
A socially distanced meet at the start point, Fulham FC's Craven Cottage
As the UK heads into the fourth month of lockdown to curb the spread of coronavirus, turning 40 during a global pandemic wasn't something I had on my bucket list. Still, it's one experience I will probably remember for the rest of my life, and I did get one of my wishes granted.
My family (who I'm fortunate to be spending lockdown with when many others can't) did all they could to try and make this birthday as good as any other. There were lots of surprises, a government-mandated walk filled with lots of laughter. Lots of Zoom chats with friends and family. But when Charlie asked me what I'd really like to be doing to celebrate my milestone birthday, I said; "A walk and talk to try and clear my head, and chat footie with the lads" (with appropriate social distancing, obviously).
So that is precisely what we organised for the 27th June; a casual walk with a small group of Palace, Fulham and Arsenal fans between Craven Cottage and Selhurst Park. Nothing big or publicised because we couldn't risk a large crowd or adverse attention, just a few friends to join us as we marched across London.
Back to the walk shortly, I just want to reflect on the lockdown a bit.
I've got absolutely nothing to complain about, and I know that I'm incredibly lucky to be surrounded by a family who loves me right now. Some people are unable to see their parents and don't even know when they'll get to see them again. Some people have to self-isolate for 12 weeks or more because they're at risk of severe illness if they're infected. And some people are spending lockdown alone; It's all relative. But I've had a lot on my plate since lockdown began. Juggling a gruelling work schedule (I run a healthcare company). Being a part-time teacher for the kids home-schooling. Keeping my elderly parents supported, even though they live 150 miles away. Plus, like everyone else, coping with the daily barrage of negative news and streams of death-toll data – It's been FULL ON. I'm not exercising as much as I should. I'm not getting any time on my own. I'm probably drinking a bit more than usual. So my mental health has been kicked around a bit. Which is why this walk couldn't have been any more perfectly timed. I suspect the lads who all rocked up had all been dealing with similar pressures.
So back to the actual walk… we meet at Craven Cottage at 10:30, and the weather is variable. But nobody cares. Funnily enough, we've all been locked up inside for so long now, the rain on our faces feels almost surreal and fun. There's a real sense that we're all just delighted to be out of our houses, walking between two great football venues, and without any of life's pressures for a few hours and a collection of miles.
Charlie, my son, is on top form. He's also struggled being locked up, and not getting his usual dose of football chat and team talk, and this group of lads always treat him with such respect and kindness that I can't help but still feel a bit emotional watching him pound pavements with them. It's his reboot moment too. As a dad, I can't put a price on that.
The route is a belter, and we kind of made it up as we went along rather than really planned things… Through Bishops Park, across the river near Putney, Wandsworth Park, up the South Circular to Wandsworth Common, into Tooting where the sun comes out, and we find a pub selling takeaway pints (my first proper pint since lockdown - it’s a miracle moment), along Tooting Bec Common, across Streatham Common (which is glorious) and Norwood Grove, along Beulah Hill where we drop down into Grangewood Park and finally arrive at Selhurst Park for 3pm. What... a... day.
The time evaporates, and 10 miles doesn't feel like 10 miles, it feels like freedom. Conversations didn't stop. Stories were swapped. Smiles and laughter and some cheeky beverages – For a good few hours, we all forgot that the world is going through this surreal, and tense moment.
I wouldn't start encouraging large groups to go off organising meet-ups. That's going to lead to all sorts of trouble. The fact of the matter is that staying home is the single most powerful tool we all possess to save lives and protect the NHS – and no matter how inconvenient it may be to have my 40th birthday in the middle of a global pandemic, following government advice and staying home is the least I can do when people are risking their lives to help those who fall sick. But at the same time, we all need to focus a little bit on our own wellbeing, and as I've mentioned in previous write-ups for Walk and Talk, these moments represent significant therapeutic moments for me. I need to know that when I'm down, there is an up. I need to know that when I'm on a treadmill, I can jump off that treadmill and do something extraordinary without any of the pressures or politics of everyday life. That's what these walks are! They're not political, they're not pressurised or loaded in any way, they aren't about charity or fund-raising or drama… they're literally about Charlie and me, and the lads who have all become friends I know I can rely on, stomping and venting and releasing the pressure. This is about our mental health and knowing we have the support of each other – The fact there wasn't even any football on, and yet we still used two clubs as beacons to walk between speaks volumes to me.
Get your clubs out walking. Support each other. We probably all need it more than ever at the moment!
Let me also offer this little tip… we don’t have to walk for miles and miles like we do. Look for the minutes and use those. There were so many moments recently that wasted when I could have gone out and taken a five-minute walk to clear my brain; it’s way more likely you have five “extra” minutes five to six times a day than you have thirty extra minutes all at once. It’s entropy. All those extra minutes are going to be spread around into tiny places where they don’t even register as "your time", let alone "time being frittered away". Take the five-minute walk. Just take it. Those minutes count. That walk across London reminded me of that.
We go again soon!