On Sunday 27th October, Selhurst Park, well Sainsbury's car park to be exact, was filled with a sense of excitement.
A sea of scarves and banners were being waved with excitement, but this was no ordinary match day.
Once again, a group of Palace and Arsenal fans have come together to walk in unity, the 12 miles from Selhurst Park to the Emirates, to raise awareness of mental health (particularly) male suicide, which is the biggest killer of males under the age of 45. The main aim was to walk and talk using the power of football, and in turn encourage others to do the same. This is now the 4th walk and talk that has taken place, and we were incredibly fortunate this time to be joined by the Samaritans, who took part in the walk and were also on hand to talk to if needed. Interestingly enough, the same walk was taking place over in Austin, Texas organised by CPFC in the states!
Everyone takes part on the walks for their own personal reasons. I suffered for a long time with mental health issues and am now in a fortunate position of recovery, but I still know full well the stigma that having mental health can have and how difficult it can be to talk about it, which is one of the main reasons why I wanted to take part, to help try and end that stigma and really promote that its ‘ok to talk’
The day started off with the usual group photo outside Palace, to very loud chanting to ‘Eaglesss!’ There might have been a shout of ‘gunners’ but I couldn’t quite hear it! The first part of this walk is always the part that I dread, as its uphill towards the Crystal Palace tower and there is always some poor person that must listen to my complaining the whole way. This year it was my uncle Jon, but we were so deep in conversation, that we were at the top of the hill before I knew it. After an hour and a half, we made our first stop. I was quite grateful for it, because having only done the marathon walk two weeks earlier, some compeed and change of socks was in desperate need. After a quick beer and a happy birthday to young eagle Charlie, it was off again.
This next stage of the walk I found quite significant, because I caught up with a few of my Palace friends. Some that already knew my story, a few that didn’t. One of my friends, who I haven't seen in a while, asked how I was, and in true South London style gave the response of "Yeah fine". This friend then stopped and looked at me and said "No, how are you really?" That was quite a moment, because suddenly I felt able to really let rip, and just let everything that was bothering me, out. It really got me thinking, we always ask each other how we are but how often do we give the real response? I also managed to have a brief chat with one of the Samaritans workers, and even speaking to her, she said that you don’t need to be at the point of being in crisis to ask for help, you can ask at any point. This again made me think, because I'm not even sure I would have considered asking for help until crisis point. If someone that has been through therapy doesn’t even know that, then it makes me wonder how much harder it might be for someone that hasn’t.
As on previous walks, a guy called Ed who looks after his grandfather full time, came along with ‘grandad’ and once again pushed him the full 12 miles (Grandad supports Millwall but we love him anyway). It was good to catch up with Ed and have a chat with him. While I can't relate to looking after someone with dementia full time, I do understand a little, as my own Nan currently suffers from it. Therefore, I know how much work my own family put in to looking after her, and the challenges they face. Grandad was on fine form as always!
After the next stop at a pub near Blackfriars, we were on to the final 6 miles. We took a different route this year to avoid the steps and went around the back of the Tate Modern. It was again time for another photo opportunity with the Arsenal fans posing by the river, chanting ‘there’s only one team in London’. Only for them to receive a comeback chant of ‘you're only a bus stop from Watford’. It was all done in the spirit of the day, but was mildly amusing watching the confused tourists who had thought they had come out for a day of culture at the Tate, only to find themselves surrounded by over a hundred football fans chanting at each other. It was then over the Millennium Bridge and on to St Paul's. This is one of my favourite parts of the day. As we do another group photo, an eruption of ‘We Love You’ breaks out, it sounds amazing!
As we made our way up past St Paul's and through Farringdon, again someone asked me a really interesting question. "If you weren't doing this walk, would you ever have walked down this road?" It really made me think, because it's not somewhere I would really go. We walk through some really nice back streets, with these quaint little shops, and this is just another reason why these walk and talks are so special. You end up in places you would never normally go, and get to see so many different things.
After a final stop at Angel, it really was the final stretch. I must say I was hurting a bit by this point, and the only time I get excited seeing signs saying ‘Arsenal FC’, which I might add, were very quickly becoming covered in Palace stickers! The final mile really felt like an achievement, and a proud moment for everyone taking part. As those at the front walked holding the newly designed ‘walk and talk’ banner, with everyone else marching one behind, it really felt that something very special had been achieved, and that we left Selhurst as individuals, but arrived at Emirates as a group.
A great day was had by everyone, and through the power of football we ‘walked the walk’ and ‘talked the talk’.