Updated: Sep 30
Author: Liam Byrne
Just some of the hardy 24 hour team at the finish line
I have known Lee for about 24 years. We stood together at the Green Pole to watch Fulham for about 7 years, before they took the terracing out and replaced it with seating. Unfortunately we lost touch because none of us had mobile phones back then and we all got dispersed. I saw him at the odd Fulham game but even though I was thinking about him, our friends at the Green Pole and those halcyon days, we never really had a proper conversation.
I then found out he was organising a walk to Birmingham for CALM, which was publicised by the club; I was interested but couldn’t make it. The season after he organised walks to all the London Premier League away clubs, I walked with him from the Cottage to Arsenal and Crystal Palace and from Chelsea to the Cottage, we spoke at greater length on these occasions. I found out about the 24 hour walk around Haywards Heath Town FC from the Sit and Talk podcast and I thought it would be a good way to meet the community and join the conversation.
I arrived at Haywards Heath Station just after 10am and I was nervous as hell, as I was late and I wasn’t sure how I’d be received, I arrived at the ground just before 10.30 but took about 15 minutes to work out how to get in. I recognised Deacon from the podcast walking around and asked him how to get in and he gave me directions. I was in and I went over to the main stand, Lee game me a warm welcome, even though I was dripping with sweat from walking 20 minutes from the station. I was still pretty nervous but he introduced me to everybody and I was put at ease.
I made sure I was going to try to talk to everybody and they were of the same mindset. There were all sorts of conversations, some serious, some light-hearted and everybody seemed at ease sharing their stories; I was sharing things that I had never shared before.
I started off sweeping the stand with Lee and his son Billy, whilst the others started walking. We were about Billy’s age when we met at the Green Pole and we were reminiscing about those days. The day was warming up when I saw two guys running around the ground, I’m a runner, so I thought I’d join them, problem was I was dripping with sweat just from sweeping part of the stand. I decided to join them at their next lap and all of a sudden I was off with Jamie and Posh Tom, we didn’t speak that much going round, we were concentrating on running but it was a nice way to start the walk for me. Jamie and Posh Tom went back to the stand for a rest but I carried on walking around the pitch and I started talking to everybody walking at that time. Everybody was so open and the conversation was so easy to make, I felt really relaxed.
The day was really heating up by now and I had to go and sit in the stand to eat, drink and cool down a bit. I was asked to go on the live stream with Ed, I was absolutely petrified and reluctant but after a few minutes I was genuinely enjoying it and every time I went back to the stand, I did a bit of live-streaming and found it fun.
The Thank You NHS Stadium, Hanbury Park, HHTFC by night
The evening came and I was about to go out and get some dinner when the Assistant Manager, Roy, came out of nowhere with pizza and beer. The club treated us really well, let us use their facilities and clubhouse, which was a lot cooler than outside, they were very welcoming and I’d definitely be up for going to a few of their games when it is safe as I really enjoy non-league football and they looked after us.
The night was tough, fighting against fatigue in the dark. I normally go to bed quite early and get up early for work, so I was way out of my comfort zone. Jamie, Lee and myself just pushed on through the night though, offering each other strength, encouragement and kind words. There was a funny moment at about 4am, when Lee crashed straight into a bin whilst talking to me in the dark. That is something I normally do, so it was funny seeing it happen to somebody else.
Morning came and Roy arrived with bacon sandwiches. What a legend. I don’t even like bacon that much but they hit the spot. I finished my laps and went back to the stand, where he was holding court and telling us about the history of the club and local non-league football, it was really fascinating. He also gave us a beer to be getting home with.
We finished our walk at 10am, having done over 1100 laps of the pitch between us, which equates to around 280 miles, it was a phenomenal team effort considering the heat and the nature of the task. If I had to pick a star man it would be Jamie, 17 years old with cerebral palsy and he did 200 laps, walking with us all night. Lee, fuelled by awful singing and thoughts of Martine McCutcheon and Jamie, fuelled by pure grit and determination, were so strong in the morning when I was flagging and they helped me out a lot, I was really knackered, can’t pull the all-nighters any more, I’m 36. Everybody played their part though, it was a great day.
I would highly recommend getting involved in the social media aspect and the walks of Walk and Talk. It is a really supportive organisation, I feel part of something and I feel I have got a new group of friends. I can’t wait until I get onto the next walk. Thanks to everybody involved in organising it and the guys at Haywards Heath Town FC for allowing us to use their facility.