Updated: Jun 16
Author: Ed Louder
Walk and Talk MMH walkers at Welling United
It’s a funny old tale, how I got to be involved in the Welling United FC to Dulwich Hamlet FC Walk And Talk. It all starts back in April of 2019. That’s when I first joined in on a Walk And Talk MMH event. Back then I wasn’t really socialising at all, I was a full-time carer for my best friend and Grandfather, Phil, he later became known to many simply as “Grandad”. Me and him had lived together 14 years and would go out on epic long walks, every day, but always on our own. I joined in that April's Crystal Palace to Arsenal Walk And Talk, organised brilliantly by Crystal Palace fan, Paul Price. More about that walk and how I got involved are said in other places; I’ll always be grateful to Paul for the wonderful, professional job he did, on that, my very first Walk And Talk.
The next link in the chain is the brilliant James Taylor-Nye. Ever since I first met James, that fateful sunny day in April, he’s been a friend to me. He played a huge role in getting myself and Grandad going along to Dulwich Hamlet FC. It must have been around October 2019 that he asked if I was interested in helping with his idea of a Walk And Talk, for the local derby between Dulwich Hamlet and Welling United. In all honesty I’m sure James could have easily organised the walk on his own, however he could probably see that I needed a nice distraction to focus on.
I just had to say yes. Not only is James simply a wonderful person who I’m always happy to see, mental health is very important to me. The figures around male suicide in particular are horrifying. More than a football teams worth of men are stolen away from us as a society, every single day. Not by knife crime which is always making the news, not by a viral epidemic, but men dying from suicide. Every suicide is a theft to the richness of our society, a loss to us all and I truly believe that many are preventable. James dealt with a lot of the networking and contacts at the clubs which I just couldn’t do at that time due to complications around my role as a Carer, he also did an amazing job with designing our advertising and getting it out there. We had a start point, Welling United’s Park View Road. We had a finish line, Dulwich Hamlet’s Champion Hill. In-between that we needed to find good rest stops, suitable for keeping everyone together. We then needed a route to glue it all together, always keeping in the mind the safety of a large group and the comfort of a wheelchair user.
This was where me and my sidekick, Grandad, came into action. We headed out and found locations to have rest stops, then tested the route. We had a pretty good time despite the weather, covering close to 20 miles in a few days. Grandad was particularly proud as he played a large part in helping me choose our second rest stop, and as I pushed him in the wheelchair, he advised me about which parts of the route were more suitable, and which less so. He also loved the fact that the walk took him through many places he knew and brought back many memories. Importantly Grandad cared about mental health, disgusted by the treatment of mentally ill war heroes he had seen returning from WW2, and by how men were expected to just have a stiff upper lip.
Sadly, at 95 Grandad passed away after an unexpected illness, not getting to see people walk the route he helped plan. He passed away at home, with myself and his family. I can’t begin to explain how proud I was of him in the final years of his life, his determination to get out and even help others. Despite having 4 separate types of cancer, a chronic breathing condition and nearly a dozen other health problems, he struggled on. I felt he deserved a place on the walk, if only in spirit. On the day I pushed his trusty old wheelchair along the full route, complete with a photo from one of Grandads funniest moments, and his old hat that had seen so many adventures.
Unexpectedly, many of the regular walkers wore Millwall scarves in respect to Grandad, a lifelong Millwall fan, despite none of them being Millwall fans themselves. Many of the scarves also got laid on his wheelchair, which became a shrine of sorts, on the day. That gesture with the scarves really touched me. There seemed to be a group process of grief, love and respect. Grandad seemed to have become a big part of the walks for some, he even made new friends on the walks or inspired some, perhaps this was their way of letting go and marking the end of a short but positive era. It certainly felt that way for me and felt like something I needed to do.
I hope none of that detracted from the important message of all these walks though, certainly it didn’t seem to. These are just my thoughts and what I take away from the walk personally. At the start of the walk, I gave a short explanation of why I had the wheelchair, so that first time walkers would be aware of the meaning behind it, then got down to business hopefully reminding everyone why we were here and to remember to talk.
Personally, feelings I took from the walk are just a renewed sense of how powerful an impact Walk And Talk MMH can have. I want lots of other people to feel the benefits of opening up, talking, making new friends etc. That’s the reason I want to be involved with more walks. I think massive tribute has to be paid to James, without him this walk would never have happened, it’s an honour to call him a friend.