Demoralising headwinds, monster climbs, aching muscles, driving rain, sleet, and even temperatures  dipping into single digits have not been enough to stop the ultra motivated, but novice cycling duo that are Adam Tann and Daniel Huggins.  As I write, their Two Wheel Testicle Tour should be on it’s way to Liverpool on Day six of their epic challenge to visit every Premier League ground in the England in eight days!  two_wheel_testicle_tour_logo

Why have these two childhood friends, who have never even owned a ‘proper’ bike until a month ago, decided to put themselves through 850 miles of pain, I hear you ask?  As you’ve probably guessed from the name of the challenge, they’re trying to raise money and awareness for male cancer charities with Orchid Cancer the main beneficiary of their fundraising effort.

Adam is one of my best friends and back in 2006, when we were teammates together at Leyton Orient, he was diagnosed with testicular cancer after finding a small lump.  To say it was a shock to myself and the rest of the team was an understatement.  You think you’re invincible in your mid-twenties, and ‘Tanny’ was (and still is) one of the fittest guys I know, so it came from absolutely nowhere.  Testicular cancer was something I had never given a second thought about up until then.  Luckily for him, us footballers are quite body aware (or maybe we’ve just always got our hands down our shorts!) so he caught the cancer at a very early stage and received some of the best treatment available.  After an operation and a single pioneering treatment of chemotherapy called ‘Carboplatin’ which was developed by Adam’s surgeon and one of Britain’s top oncologists, Professor Tim Oliver, he was back playing competitive football just four months later.  An incredible achievement in itself – it was particularly fitting that Tanny ended up scoring the goal in the away win against Bradford that more or less secured our League One status after a tough relegation scrap toward the end of that season.  I’ve no doubt his positivity and mental toughness rubbed off on the rest of us during that campaign.

Cancer has also affected the life of the other half of this unlikely long distance cycling duo.  Dan has lost family members to the disease and his motivation to do something positive to help fight its indiscriminate nature is just as strong as Adam’s.  They were teammates as youngsters at Cambridge United, and although Adam still plays and Dan is reasonably fit, they wanted to do something outside their comfort zone that would make people sit up and take notice.  I think they’ve certainly achieved that.

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Relieved to have arrived at the  Appletree Guesthose in Bath

My wife Laura and I met up with them in Bath on Tuesday night after they had just completed a particularly grueling 130 mile ride from Reading via Southampton.  The lads admitted that the leg had been the toughest so far.  The rain hadn’t let up all day, they were soaking wet and had been in the saddle for almost 12 hours, something which would become the norm over the following couple of days.  They were warmly welcomed into their lodgings for the night at the Apple Tree Guest House by the owner Les.  After a quick shower and protein shake their day was about to improve, although they’d have been forgiven for thinking it was getting worse as I handed them both some random spare clothes of mine to change into before heading out to help them refuel.  Dan looked particularly fetching in my old training bottoms and hoody, while Tanny got slightly the better part of the deal as he squeezed into my skinny jeans.  The flip flops they had brought with them finished off the look nicely and although they were both walking like John Wayne, they were in good spirits.

adam_dan_burgers_editRefuelling at Bill’s

Over some juicy burgers at Bill’s restaurant in Bath where the staff were amazingly supportive and generous, they recounted their adventure so far and you can read more about it here on the blog that they’re attempting to update at the end of every day – that is if they don’t fall asleep mid post.  They’ve been taken aback by the kindness of strangers at every stop and even had unexpected support from a couple of Premier League stars as well.  Swansea striker, Michu, was happy to pose for photographs and my friend, the always approachable and all-round good guy, Steven Reid, met up with them at West Bromwich Albion.

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Nice to Michu

Every day their legs get a bit stiffer and it gets harder for them to get up and do it all over again, but after today (Friday) they’ve ‘only’ got two more left on the road. First they visit Wigan and the Manchester clubs before heading for the North East where they’ll tick off Sunderland, before finally completing the tour at Newcastle United’s St. James’ Park on Sunday evening.

When they complete this incredibly gruelling challenge, they’ll have done something pretty incredible.  Two guys who have basically jumped on their bikes with very little training and attempted something that would test the most experience cyclist.  They’ll have earned every penny of the sponsorship money that has and will be donated, so please give what you can to these two inspiring individuals I’m proud to call friends.

You can sponsor them here and I know they would really appreciate any twitter messages of support for the final push.

@AdamTann | @Hugster22

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Some facts and figures for you…

  • 13 Premier League titles
  • 49 trophies
  • 71 years old
  • 27 wins from 34 games so far this season
  • 84 points
  • On course for a record 96 points
  • Gets up at 6am to go to work

You’ve probably already realised the impressive statistics above relate to arguably the greatest football manager of all time; Sir Alex Ferguson.  But these numbers (the BBC have compiled a more in-depth numerical analysis here) can only tell you part of his incredible story.  They won’t tell you how he managed to instill and nurture a winning mentality after he captured his first league title for Manchester United in 1993, 25 years after their previous title success.  Nor will they hint as to what he said in his half-time team talk that inspired one the greatest comebacks in sporting history – the incredible Champions League victory against Bayern Munich in 1999.  They can’t tell you how he really feels after leading Manchester United to their 20th title, less than a year after their City rivals stole it from under their noses in the dying seconds of last season and watched as they painted his adopted city sky blue.  You can probably guess though.

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Photograph: Manchester Evening News

These are the pieces of the story in between the numbers, the bits that aren’t so clear-cut, although numerous words have been written in an attempt to describe one man’s desire to keep on winning.  How he pushes himself and those around him to their absolute limits.  His ability to recycle a team over 27 years, but still have the same core beliefs and achieve the same level of success.  To prove critics wrong and keep up with the changing face of the most dynamic game in the world at boardroom level and most importantly at the coal face.  I could go on and on.  But what I find most interesting, and it’s the same thing that intrigues me with all the great managers I currently admire, Morinho, Guardiola, Klopp, is his relationship with his players.

Some may still associate him with the ‘hairdryer’, his temper and his utter ruthlessness when it comes to dealing with his multi-million pound earning stars, and I’ve no doubt that that dimension of his character still exists. It has to.  It’s too simple to look at his man management in black and white.  if you do, then his enigmatic rule might even be interpreted as dictatorial.  But it’s the grey areas in between that I think give us the best clues to his consistent success over the years.

Somehow he seems to keep players happy.  Even those who aren’t playing regularly come in and do a more than adequate job for him, and you never hear of any real unrest coming out of the Old Trafford dressing room.  No-one’s too big a name to be dropped – just ask Wayne Rooney!  How does Sir Alex do this?  Well, he may actually be in the minority of managers that believe honesty is the best policy, instead of sitting down in front of you, doing their best to avoid prolonged eye contact, and giving you some bull-shit that they think you want to hear.  If one of his players doesn’t want to accept the truth, keep their head down and work even harder for an opportunity,  which he probably will get, then quite simply they’ll be out the door.  He gives them confidence, he has a belief in every one of them, that’s why they’re at Manchester United.

David de Gea is a prime example.  His manager quite rightly left him out of the team in the early part of the season and the press certainly didn’t make life easy for the young Spaniard.  However, Ferguson always believed in him.  Can you imagine having Sir Alex Ferguson in your corner?  It’s no wonder De Gea has silenced his critics.  The way he handled Andy Carroll’s ariel assault last week is a perfect example of the transformation he has undergone this season.

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Sure, it’s probably more acceptable to a player to be sitting on the bench at Manchester United than it would be for someone at a lesser club.  The incentive that’s always there of being part of a side winning trophies and writing history can, in the short term, be enough to balance out the lack of actual game time, but good players want to play consistently and no doubt those like Javier Hernández will want to contribute more next season.  However, Alex Ferguson will have made it very clear to the Mexican Internationalist that even though he has had limited appearances, his contribution of eight goals has played a part in delivering the club’s 20th title.

Ryan Giggs has been the heartbeat of Ferguson’s reign for well over a decade, and looks set to lead his manager’s quest for glory for another season at least.  Ferguson though, acknowledges every player’s part in the club’s success over the years.  Take Wes Brown and John O’Shea for instance.  With all due respect to them, they were never going to be remembered by the United fans in the same way that the likes of Gary Neville or Steve Bruce undoubtedly are.  However, I’ve no doubt that Ferguson would be hard pushed to distinguish between either pairs’ contribution when it comes to breaking down the parts his players have played in his many victories over the years.  As mentioned in an excellent piece by Daniel Taylor in the Guardian, ‘Everybody contributes’.

At Old Trafford on Monday night, Robin van Persie  spectacularly made sure his first season at his new club ended with silverware.  The champagne in the dressing room still had it’s fizz as Ferguson waxed lyrical on the seemingly unlimited potential of his star player and what he’s achieved this season, while also cleverly sowing the seeds for a possible new breed of multiple champions when he singled out Phil Jones and Rafael da Silva for special praise.  I can only imagine the confidence with which Jones will approach next season with his manager’s words of encouragement ringing in his ears; he probably wishes it was set to begin the day after this campaign ends.

Phil JOnes

Photograph: John Peters/Man Utd via Getty Images

Like Giggs, Scholes and Beckham before them, these young Manchester United players will see Sir Alex as a father figure.  I’m very aware that sounds a bit cheesy, but bear with me.  The reason I use that tired phrase is because of my relationship with my own Dad.  I said in my wedding speech that big Archie was ‘harsh but fair‘ and anyone who knows him would understand exactly what I meant; with no explanation.  Black and white.  Right or wrong.  Was I afraid of him?  Yes, but not in a physical way – although I did get a sore behind on a few occasions, and those were well deserved I must add.  My biggest fear was letting him down, and it still is.  I think Manchester United’s players will testify to how strong a motivation that can be.  The hairdryer might be used more sparingly nowadays, but you can be certain that it isn’t Sir Alex’s only weapon of choice in his mission to add to those numbers above.

Borussia Dortmund Home 1993/94

This post was partly inspired by the The Football Attic blog, an excellent site dedicated to quirky football nostalgia with a particular love of unusual kits. A little while ago the guys set up a knock-out competition to find the best classic sponsor that adorned the shirts of British teams from the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s . The winner was WANG, an American computer company which at one time proudly adorned the Oxford United kit, beating the legendary Newcastle Brown Ale star which was used to striking effect on ‘The Toon’s’ famous black and white striped shirts of the 80’s.  As I consoled myself with the defeat of Liverpool’s HITACHI top (featured here in Greatest Kits #1) in the earlier rounds, it got me thinking about another shirt I owned from my past, where the sponsor played a crucial part of the design.

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Hi Vis!

Die Continental, who sponsored Borussia Dortmund for just over a decade from 1986 until their European Cup victory in ’97, are a German health Insurance giant. And whilst that might be quite a bland sponsor, the symbol was anything but – and neither were the players who wore it.  Matthias Sammer, Andreas Möller, Karl-Heinz Riedle were all some of my favourite German players from the early 90’s, but after Denmark’s shock win at the 1992 European Campionships, I had a special admiration for a talented attacking Dane called Flemming Povlsen.  Ally that to the fact that you wouldn’t miss the kit on a poorly lit motorway in the middle of the night, and I couldn’t wait to spend my pocket money.  I mean, it’s luminous yellow, how good is that!

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Flemming brilliant!

I remember going into Greaves Sports in Glasgow which was, and probably still is, THE number one place in Scotland to buy football shirts, especially those with a random continental flavour. While I was  sure that the Dortmund kit was what I was after, I must admit I almost wavered at the last moment. I was nearly seduced by the sultry white and violet silk of Fiorentina away, a top I always wanted to own – Gabriel Batistuta and the rise of Italian football on channel 4 being the main culprits for that obsession. However, I stuck with the plan, and whilst I still regret never owning a ‘Viola’ strip, my BVB shirt is one of my all-time favourites .

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The one that got away

Over the years Borussia Dortmund have never strayed from their famous bright yellow and black colours, and even though I don’t think the subsequent sponsors have had quite the same visual impact as the big, black C, the club’s colours make the famous ‘Yellow Wall’ inside Signal Iduna Park an amazing spectacle to behold. Jurgen Klopp’s exciting young team are taking Europe by storm and it must be a good time to be standing on that iconic south terrace. But let’s face it, with an atmosphere like this, is there ever a bad time?

As with most things of this nature, I’m a bit late to the party with the whole Harlem Shake thing.  Not obscenely late, as my wife pointed out, but late enough.  Anyway, this was tweeted to me the other day by my good friend and freelance journalist Stuart Hodge and it cracks me up every time.  Graeme Souness with an iron – what more can you ask for?  Genius lads.

 

Terry Butcher has a very big decision to make, that’s if he’s not made up his mind already.  It’s been reported that the Inverness Caledonian Thistle manager was due to hold further talks with Barnsley earlier today about taking over the reigns of the struggling Championship side.  There are a lot of people who will think it’s a no brainer for the former England captain.  After all, there’s no denying Barnsley are a bigger club, play at higher level, and potentially offer a quicker stepping stone to further Butcher’s managerial ambitions – that’s if he can first keep them in the Championship, which will be an incredibly tough task.

However, let’s not forget the love Terry Butcher has not only for Inverness Caledonian Thistle , but also for his adopted home.  His side currently sit in second place in the SPL and even though there are realistic doubts (and he will have them also) as to whether this is as good as it gets for the Highland club, I’m sure big Terry would love to finish the job and welcome european football to Inverness next season.  That’s part of the footballing arguement for him to stay, but every time I speak to him, whether it’s personally or when it was for this interview I’m about to share, conversation always turns to his love of the area.  The beauty and diversity of the surrounding Invernesshire flora and fauna provides the calming influence and contrast needed to counter the intensity and passion which Butcher was famous for portraying in his career as a player, and which is somewhat now his trademark managerial style.

He might have worn the Three Lions with pride, but there’s no denying he’s an honourary Scot to many.  Whether he stays or goes, there’s no doubt the decision will not be an easy one for him to make.

I wrote this piece a couple of years ago as part of my degree:

Former England Captain, Terry Butcher is no stranger to receiving accolades.  In a professional career spanning thirty four years, he has lifted silverware as both a player and manager, but it is with genuine pride that he describes recently being awarded a Doctorate of Sport from Southampton’s Solent University as “one of the best days of my life.”  All  of his family were there, the first time they had been together since Christmas last year, and it was made even more special as he had the pleasure of seeing his son Ed graduate ten minutes before him.

Butcher has previously travelled all the way from his Invernesshire home to impart some of the knowledge he has garnered from over 3 decades in professional football to help Ed and the rest of the students on the Sports Coaching course.  The honorary degree was presented in recognition of his outstanding contribution to the football industry.  A contribution that saw Butcher continually put his body on the line throughout a playing career in which winning was an obsession.  In more recent times he has tried to convey that same spirit and attitude through management and also in the lectures and practical sessions he has taught  at the University.

When I last spoke to Terry Butcher, it was back in June and the Inverness Caledonian Thistle manager was looking to add to his newly promoted team for the upcoming SPL campaign.  I had turned down a new contract offer with Swindon Town and the former England Captain was giving me his best sales pitch to try and convince me to return north of the border.  “You’ll love it up here Easty,” he said, “It’s a great bunch of boys and we’re going to give it a real go this season.”  I didn’t doubt for a second that I would love it, and the prospect of playing for a man I had gained so much respect for from our time together  at Dundee United was a massive lure, never mind him waxing lyrical about the wonderful scenery and lack of traffic in the Highlands.  I had a big decision to make, one of the hardest of my career, and after much deliberation I chose to join one of my former managers, Paul Sturrock, at Southend United.  I didn’t think the time was right for me to go back to Scotland, but I was definitely flattered at Terry’s effort to tempt me there, so I must admit there was just a hint of trepidation on my part when I phoned him looking for an interview.  I needn’t have worried.  “Not a problem, just don’t stitch me up!”, he agreed warmly, although he couldn’t help but mention on a couple of occasions that I could have been part of the success his side are currently enjoying.

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That is why these days he conveys more passion when talking about his current position as manager of Inverness Caledonian Thistle than the exploits of his past, although he is still very proud of all that he has achieved.  I’m not surprised by his desire to focus more on the present as things couldn’t really get much better for him at the moment.  I spoke with Terry at the end of an amazing week that began when his current side earned a well deserved draw against his former club Rangers at Ibrox.  That was followed two days later by the collection of the aforementioned degree and in just as many days with the award of SPL manager of the Month for October.  Citing the “ups and downs typical of football” Butcher’s week of highs ended on a slightly sour note when Caley Thistle lost to another of his previous clubs, Motherwell.  A win could have taken his newly promoted side into third place in the league but Butcher, pragmatic as ever about his recent good fortune noted; “There’s always a low thrown in there somewhere.”

A temporary low if Thistle’s away form is anything to go by.  And true to it, three days later his well traveled side bounced back with a 2-1 win at Pittodrie against Aberdeen, extending an unbelievable record on the road which has seen the Highland club go unbeaten away from home for almost a year.  Reflecting on the two wins and two draws that attributed to his latest award, Butcher recognises how far his club has come in that time.  After being relegated just three months after taking over at the helm, and with pay cuts and redundancies a knock on effect of the clubs demotion, Butcher had given himself an unenviable task.  This time twelve months ago, Inverness were languishing sixth in the Scottish First Division but after “a lot of hard work and determination”  in a season that included a 21 match unbeaten run, Inverness won the title by a comfortable twelve points.  He said, “Last season was magnificent and the way the board are, it gives us a real platform for the future.”  The promotion success has carried over into what has been a fantastic start to the current campaign and Butcher humbly dedicates his manager of the month award to “everyone at the club who has worked so hard this season.”  He also states that “You’ve got to have the right people around you and I’m very lucky that I’ve got Maurice (Malpas) with me.”  Malpas was also Butcher’s right hand man at Motherwell and the former Scotland Captain doesn’t hide his dislike of the Auld Enemy  “I know I get stick from Mo every day about being English”, Butcher concedes “but I’m delighted that he’s with me because we can work things out together.”

Butcher has had enough experience of the down side of football management and he certainly isn’t taking for granted the purple patch that both him and his club are currently enjoying.  It’s with total honesty that he describes his time at Brentford as a “disaster”.  Spells at Coventry City, Sunderland and Sydney weren’t exactly memorable for the right reasons either but in his two spells as boss north of the border, he has certainly done his reputation no harm.  Guiding a youthful Motherwell squad to two top six finishes and a Cup Final appearance was no mean feat given the financial difficulties the Lanarkshire club faced at the time, and you can draw parallels with his time there and with what he is accomplishing now at Inverness.  I’m not surprised by the impact he made on the young players at Motherwell or by the success he has had with the impressionable squad he is in charge of now, as he’s always been a natural leader.  My first memories of big Terry, as my Dad used to affectionately call him, are as a seven year old, watching him lead the Rangers revolution under Greame Souness.  I wasn’t to know then that 13 years later I would be sitting in the away dressing room at Ibrox as a Dundee United player in front of the man himself whilst he gave a team talk that made me want to run through walls to achieve a victory over his former club.  We won 1-0 that day.  During his 18 month spell as a coach with Dundee United, his enthusiasm for the game left an indelible mark on me as a 20 year old in the infancy of my career.  Not only was he an inspiration in the footballing sense but Terry was also a great role model for life in general.  I have memories of the second most successful England Captain in history laden with balls, bibs, cones and other training equipment, carrying it all by himself to the mini-bus after sessions.  Another image that sticks in my mind is of him helping out the lunch lady by doing the dishes in the kitchen of the canteen at Tannadice Park.  Over ten years have passed since then and he still remembers; “Maureen’s fish and beans on a Thursday, lovely!.”  These sort of things stick in Butcher’s mind because he is a people person.

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I ask him what his philosophy is on getting the best out of his squad. He simply says, “There is no blueprint or master-plan”…“I try to tap into players and their mental approach and get them to believe in themselves and the team.”  Butcher exudes positivity and he might never again give as rousing a speech as his infamous “Caged Tigers!” rant to his England team-mates during Italia 90 but you can bet that anyone who plays under him will be inspired to give nothing but their best.  He doesn’t try to imitate any one particular management style but admits to using “bits and pieces” that worked for old managers and adapting them to his own style.  He talks with great fondness for the late Sir Bobby Robson, who he played under for the best part of 14 years, both for Ipswich and the national team.  “He was an unbelievable man, made you feel ten feet tall, inspirational in the way he handled you and talked to you, a fantastic leader.”  It’s fitting that those words could also be used to sum up Dr. Butcher perfectly and I’m sure his former mentor would be very proud of his protégé, although possibly a tad surprised by his newly acquired moniker.

Some of you who follow me on Twitter may already know that I’ve recently had a couple of pieces published by Paul Grech on his excellent Blueprint for Football site. Paul has a massive interest in youth football and the development of young players all over the world. The purpose of his blog is to really understand what drives successful development programmes and what lessons can be learned, not only from the approach different football clubs and associations take, but also from other sports.

I’m delighted he decided to feature the final project from my sports journalism degree which consists of three articles I completed back in May under the title; The Future of Scottish Football. Earlier in the year I interviewed the Scottish FA Performance Director Mark Wotte, The SFA Chief Exec Stewart Regan, Falkirk manager Steven Pressley, and Dundee United chairman Stephen Thompson among other prominent people who have an interest in the future of our game. With qualification for Brazil 2014 looking nigh on impossible for the national team after two draws and two defeats in the opening four matches of the World Cup qualifying campaign, the ‘blueprint’ for the future of Scottish football is more important than ever.

Click on the image above to read part one about what is being done for kids at grass roots level and also ‘elite’ players in the 12-16 age group. The title of part two is ‘The Next Stage’, where I talk about, what is in my opinion, the most important part of a players’ development if they are to progress to the top level in football; the stage where they are under the tutelage of a professional club. Click on the image below to find out why Steven Pressley thinks that the Spanish footballing renaissance of the last decade can help Scotland create a footballing identity of it’s own.

Part three will be coming soon. Feel free to comment here, or on Paul Grech’s site if you have any thoughts on the first two instalments.

Thanks for reading.

A “mere” 800 metre swim followed by a “wee” 10km run is all that stands in the way of Graeme Lundberg completing a challenge which if described as superhuman wouldn’t be too much of an overstatement.  When the 33 year oldformer Dundee United youth team player crosses the finishing line at the Stirling Aquathon on Sunday, he will have completed 22 grueling events in seven months.  And the fact that he uses those two words in quotation marks above to describe his final effort, gives you an insight into how tough some of the other 21 have been.

After reading in the Dundee Courier about little Oliver Gill’s tragic five and a half month battle against a very rare and aggressive form of cancer, Graeme decided to, as he put it, “change a few things and get the finger out” and raise some money for the Love Oliver Charity Trust Fund which was set up in memory of baby Oliver by his parents Andy and Jennifer.  The charity, which has raised over £118,000 helps fund research into childhood cancer and provide support to families affected by it.  Graeme explains that the relatively new experience of becoming a father himself played a major part in motivating him to help.  “My young lad, Joseph, was about 9 months old at the time and the year before, I probably would have just skirted through the paper on my way to the sports section or Television pages, but once I started reading the piece about Oliver it was hard to fathom the bravery of his parents, two of the bravest people I know.  There were certain pictures of Oliver that reminded me of my own son and I just wanted to do something to raise awareness and also some cash for this charity which captured my heart”.

If you take a look at the Facebook and Twitter accounts he set up to document his fundraising journey, then you’ll notice they’re both called 5MarathonsGL.  So while his heartfelt connection to Oliver’s story might go some way to explaining setting himself an arduous five marathon challenge, how does he explain finding himself “doing a 1900m doggie paddle” in the freezing cold water of Loch Tay as part of the Aberfeldy Half Ironman?  “That wasn’t on the cards!” he admits.  “Initially, I thought the maximum I could do was maybe five marathons – all the Scottish ones, which was still a lot as the most I had run previously was a 10k, and to be honest my knees were in all sorts of trouble after that.  There was no way I would’ve even thought about doing a half marathon and then one week after reading about Oliver, I’m thinking about doing 5 full ones, and then it just escalated from there into finding out what other events I could get involved in”.

He suffered with injury in the early stages of training and now understands he was a bit too keen to get going.  His eagerness in trying to run ten or eleven miles straight off meant that he needed some treatment to deal with a painful IT band problem, but the mileage he’s covered, whether on foot, two wheels or in the water is even more impressive given the fact that apart from some physiotherapy, he’s had no professional help with his training; something that gets highlighted particularly when competing in the Duathlons or Triathlons.  He said, “At a lot of the events I go to, most people are wearing a running club vest or t-shirt and in most cases have an affiliation to one.  It’s a wee bit intimidating, especially when you see them going about in groups with the same tracksuits on like a football team”.  The attire of his fellow athletes wasn’t the only difference Graeme noticed, their equipment also caught his eye.  “You should see some of the bikes!  You  wouldn’t spend that amount of money on your car and I pitch up on a bike I got for a couple of hundred quid from Amazon, trying to race against guys on machines that wouldn’t have looked out of place in the Olympic velodrome!”  Although he’s a natural competitor, Graeme was well aware he wouldn’t be featuring at the business end of these events but that’s never been his goal and he explains what it’s really all about.  “Every event I compete in, I wear my Love Oliver t-shirt, and anyone that’s willing to chat during a race (and if I’m able to!) I’ll talk them through the whole cause and how to donate.  It’s about getting the word out there and I’ve been up and down the country doing that.”

A quick look at some of the locations these extreme tests of body and mind have taken place in and you could be forgiven for thinking he’s had a lovely time taking in some of the finest scenery our country has to offer.  Fife beaches, National Parks, beautiful coastlines, lochs, mountains, the capital city, and stunning, scenic Highland roads have all featured in Graeme’s varied itinerary.  He admits Scotland’s beauty has been somewhat wasted on him, “It’s true, there have been some great scenic courses, but most of the time I’m focused about 30 yards in front of me and that’s it, just trying to drive on and keep running”.  It’s not surprising that the undulating terrain and inclement weather of this beautiful country throws up some interesting challenges for the novice marathon runner.  “Each marathon is it’s own wee beastie.”  He continues, “For example, The Edinburgh Marathon was really tough.  It was about 27 degrees so that was a fair shift and the one after that was Strathearn where the route was based around the hilly Comrie/Crieff area.  There was hardly a flat bit on the whole course with a huge climb to something like 1500 feet above sea level – almost at altitude!”, he jokes.

Graeme is inspired by the determination Andy and Jennifer have shown to raise as much money as possible for such a worthwhile cause and he uses their example as motivation when the going gets tough.  However, he’s had to really dig deep into his reserves of courage on more than one occasion – often when swimming is involved.  “The thought of doing the Half Ironman terrified me”, he said.  It would terrify most people.  A half Iron Man consists of a 1900m swim, 56 mile bike ride, then a half marathon to finish so It’s no wonder it played on his mind.  He admits, “I couldn’t sleep for the whole week just thinking about it, mainly because, I’m one of the worlds‘ worst swimmers.  I’ve always struggled with front crawl, so I decided I would breast stroke the majority of the Loch Tay swim”.  He was just happy to survive that particular experience but it highlights his willingness to step outside of his comfort zone and push his body to it’s limits.  But there is some method to his madness.  “The reason I’ve been adding on more events and tougher ones at that, is to promote the charity.  You see celebrities, guys like John Bishop and David Walliams, doing outrageous challenges, so I feel these days you’ve got to do more to capture peoples’ imaginations and wrestle money out of their wallets.”

So far Graeme has raised over £4000 but it’s not all been down to putting his body through the pain barrier.  He also organised a 5-a-side tournament which took place on Broughty Ferry beach, a golf day at Drumoig and a Dundee derby charity football match which included ex players Lee Wilkie, Ray McKinnon, Grant Johnston, Davie Hannah, Bobby Mann, Andy Dow and former United under 16 teammates, Richard Thomson, Chris Devine and Steven Fallon.  He couldn’t resist pulling the boots on again himself, playing the last 15 minutes along with Oliver’s Dad, Andy.

Andy’s wife, Jennifer, is in awe of the lengths Graeme has gone to to raise money for the charity she and her husband set up in Oliver’s memory almost two years ago.  She said, “We’ve had a lot of support and people have done amazing things to raise money and awareness, but we’ve never had anyone do anything like this.  When we heard Graeme was thinking about running five marathons, we thought that seemed a lot, but 22 events is incredible!”.  Jennifer acknowledges that Graeme has inspired a good number of people to get involved and has certainly spread the word about Love Oliver while he’s swam, cycled, and run all over Scotland.  Jennifer adds, “I’m delighted he’s agreed to become an ambassador for Love Oliver as there’s no one better suited than Graeme.  He’s so modest and his wife has also been so supportive”.

On that note, it’s fair to say Graeme won’t be the only person happy to see the finish line on Sunday.  His wife Katriona, and son Joseph, have accompanied him at almost every event and while they’ve often made the most of their weekends away at events together, he realises it’s probably time to have one that doesn’t involve them waiting for him to finish a race.  But is this the end?  It’s hard to believe him when he says he’s finished.  In fact he eventually admits to “pencilling in a few more, 10k’s and such like, and I’ll keep myself ticking over but I’m not sure I’ll do another marathon any time soon.”  He pauses for about three seconds before saying, “You know what, I probably will!”.

Below is the full list of events Graeme has completed.

1) Stirling Duathlon Mar25th; 2) Lochaber Marathon Apr15th; 3) Edinburgh-North Berwick 20mile RoadRace May5th; 4) Monikie 10k May13th;  5) Edinburgh Marathon May27th; 6) Perth Kilt Run June2nd; 7) Chariots St Andrews Beach 5k June 3rd 8) Strathearn Marathon June 10th; 9) Highland-Perthshire 100mile cycle June16th; 10) Stonehaven Half Mara July 1st; 11) Crieff 10k July8th; 12) Loch Lomond Triathlon July 14th; 13) Dundee Half Marathon July 29th; 14) Dyce Half Marathon, Aug 12th; 15) Aberfeldy Half-Ironman Aug18th; 16) St Andrews Sportive 80mile cycle, Aug 26th 17) Moray Marathon Sep2nd; 18) Olympic Triathlon Challenge Sep; 19) Pitlochry 10k Sept23rd; 20) Loch Ness Marathon Sept 30th; 21) Great Edinburgh Run 10k;  22) Stirling Aquathon Oct 14th

You can donate money to the Love Oliver Trust Fund by sponsoring Graeme here: https://mydonate.bt.com/fundraisers/5marathons Graeme is also on twitter @5MarathonsGL

Also visit the Love Oliver homepage to find out more about what the charity is doing to help in the fight against childhood cancer.