Former Huddersfield Town star Marcus Stewart is behind a 178-mile walking challenge which aims to raise £30,000 for research into motor neurone disease (MND).
A team of walkers will take part in March of the Day from Bradford City to Liverpool to raise money for the Darby Rimmer MND Foundation, set up by ex-footballer Stephen Darby. Both Marcus and Stephen have been diagnosed with the condition.
The walk, which starts on Friday March 22 2024, will take place over two-and-a-half days and more than 50 ex-professional footballers will join in at various stages. Stars taking part include: Paul Scholes, Dom Matteo, Jeff Whitley, Jill Scott and Jamie Hoyland.
The walk will visit 17 football clubs including Huddersfield Town, Leeds United, Manchester United and Manchester City. There is a core team of walkers who will be walking in rotation from start to finish.
The walk will start at Bradford City at 9am with a 4.66 mile walk to Pudsey. Then it’s Pudsey to Leeds United; Leeds United to Birstall; Birstall to Roberttown; and Roberttown to Huddersfield Town. The walkers are due to arrive just before 4pm at the John Smith’s Stadium. Then it’s Salendine Nook and Pole Moor and off towards Oldham.
On Day 1, which ends at Bolton, the walkers will wear T-shirts with ‘Stewart’ on the back. Money will be raised through sponsorships, both of stages and of players; the sale of T-shirts and hoodies; and also through the auctioning of memorabilia donated by the clubs they visit.
To promote the walk, Marcus and Stephen recorded an emotional conversation speaking about their MND journey. It was filmed by BBC Breakfast at Liverpool’s Anfield stadium.
Marcus, who was diagnosed in September 2022, told how he got in touch with Stephen because of his footballing background. Stephen was diagnosed in 2018.
Marcus, 51, who is married to Louise and has two sons Kian and Finlay, said he believed his mindset as a professional footballer has helped him cope with the diagnosis.
“I think that a football background, being in elite sport, it prepares you a little bit psychologically,” he said. “We are used to living in the moment as a player, day by day, week by week.
“You cannot look four months ahead, you can’t look a year ahead because you don’t know what is going to happen.
“For me, I can relate to it. I live in the moment now. I live week to week, I don’t look about next month or next year, just every day.”
Stephen is unsteady on his feet and recently had a fall in the shower and needed wife Steph to help him up, covered in blood.
Movingly, Marcus asked: “Do you feel like a hindrance?” Stephen smiled and joked that his family would say he’d been a hindrance for 35 years!
Marcus told how he couldn’t tie his own shoelaces anymore but that didn’t stop him trying.
“I still try to do my own laces up now and again,” he said. “I will be there all day because I can’t do it but I will try.”
Stephen replied: “That’s part of fighting it, trying not to let it win.”
Marcus added: “I can’t grip anything with my left hand now. When you go to pick your phone up from the car seat, I could do that with my left hand a year ago. Now I have to reach out and pick it up with my right hand.
“This hand (the right) is starting to go a little bit. I still have strength in it but I get cramps.”
Last year Huddersfield Town’s latest Walk for Pounds – renamed Miles for Marcus – raised £42,953.45 for the Darby Rimmer Foundation. More than 150 walkers took part.
Club ambassador Andy Booth said: “The generosity of Huddersfield Town supporters never fails to amaze me. This huge total raised by our Miles for Marcus just goes to show how generous Town fans are, and how much Marcus Stewart and his fight against MND means to them.”