The Bob Willis Fund

Posted: January 16 2024

Durham-Northumberland Over 60s Walk with Sunderland AFC

Durham-Northumberland Over 60s Walk with Sunderland AFC

A phone call from former England footballer, Mick Harford, had us emerging from our walking hibernation in December to participate in a walk at The Stadium of Light, Sunderland.

Mick, hailing from Sunderland, is acutely aware that the incidence of prostate cancer in the North East is 1 in 6, compared to 1 in 8 in most of the country. He was very eager to raise awareness in his native region. A discussion with Mike Small encouraged the Durham-Northumberland Over 60s cricketers to eagerly participate in the event.

Gary Bennett, a legend at Sunderland AFC, who recently underwent prostate removal surgery, was more than willing to join us and contribute in any way possible. This involvement attracted local press member Bill Bradshaw and the Fans Museum, Sunderland, established by Michael Ganley. Mick Harford’s sister, Maureen, played an active role in organising the walk and motivated locals to participate and donate. Geoff, Maureen’s husband, leveraged his family contacts to arrange for Richard Young to supply the lunchtime catering. Our heartfelt thanks go to Geoff. Maureen and Geoff meticulously planned the walk around Sunderland’s seafront, starting from The Stadium of Light and concluding with lunch at The Fans Museum. Gary Bennett, part of BBC Radio Newcastle’s commentary team for Sunderland matches, helped publicise the walk during an interview before the match against Huddersfield.

While initial hopes for SAFC’s direct involvement in the walk faced some obstacles, we were delighted to eventually be invited to the Fans Museum. If you’re ever in Sunderland, do visit the Museum, housed in the historic Monkwearmouth Station. Although local metro trains still pass through, they no longer stop at the station. When issues arose with SAFC, Maureen arranged for a local company to provide soup and sandwiches for the walkers at The Fans Museum. On the Tuesday evening before the match against Leeds United, Mick, Gary, Ron, and a Prostate Cancer UK representative spoke to fans at The Fans Museum, sharing stories of their battles with prostate cancer and raising awareness.

Ron, Pat, Jonathan Mulcahy, and Mark Haines travelled to Sunderland for the walk and to watch the Leeds United match. We are especially grateful to Richard Young of Youngs Quality Foods for his assistance and sponsorship.

Before the walk commenced, a reporter from the “Sunderland Echo” conducted interviews, which were featured online and as a full-page article in the following day’s paper. Over 100 participants, including cricketers and local football fans, set off from The Stadium of Light on a crisp, dry December morning. Among them was an international visitor who, having heard about our walk, eagerly joined us. The walkers returned to The Fans Museum for sandwiches and hot soup. We are profoundly grateful for the incredible turnout from the people of the North East, and we are thrilled to announce that the walk raised £3,000. As it was a joint event with SAFC supporters and Durham/Northumberland Over 60s cricket, £1,000 of the funds raised will be donated to the South Tyneside and Sunderland NHS Foundation Trust, which provided care to Gary Bennett during his prostate cancer diagnosis last year. A cheque presentation to the NHS Trust is scheduled at The Fans Museum on Friday, 2nd February 2024.

Recently, we received news that a Sunderland season ticket holder who participated in the walk went

for a PSA test and discovered a raised PSA level, necessitating further scans. He expressed his gratitude for our efforts in raising awareness. This feedback underscores the value of our endeavours.

We note that several counties have not yet contacted us about organising a walk, and we hope they will do so soon. To join a walk, please contact Ron Hedley at For more information, visit or and click on ‘prostate cancer walks’.

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