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Allan Surtees with Norman Hunter
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July 14, 2022

Run for home: football and dementia

What challenge could I set myself approaching my 60th birthday to test me both physically and mentally as well as raising awareness about dementia and Alzheimer’s Disease?

I came up with the idea to run the 96.75 miles from Leeds United’s Elland Road to Sunderland’s Stadium of Light, within seven days in late September 2022.

My father, Allan, passed away in November 2020 as a result of advanced dementia and other complications. I witnessed how he deteriorated over time to the point where he didn’t recognise family and close friends, forgot simple functions like dressing himself and things like basic hygiene.

There’s nothing worse than seeing a loved one lose those functions of the brain. More needs to be done to diagnose the condition earlier, find more effective treatments and educate people on how best to support family or friends with dementia.

My mother, Shirley, also has dementia and is now in a care home near Sunderland.

I thought long and hard about what I could do before coming up with the idea of running from Leeds to Sunderland football grounds but in the end everything seemed to fit together like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle:-

  • My great Uncle Jack Stelling played for Sunderland in the 1940s.
  • My dad was a life-long supporter of Sunderland football club and his work colleagues managed to get some ex-Sunderland players, including some (Bobby Kerr, Micky Horswill and Barry Dunn) who played in the 1973 FA Cup Final against Leeds, to attend his retirement and present him with gifts for his long service.
  • My dad was the steward of a Working Men’s Club in the North East and became a close friend of Colin Todd (who played for Sunderland, Derby and England) when he had finished his playing career and was working for a local brewery.
  • I was a Leeds supporter as a boy in 1973 when Sunderland beat them in that Cup Final. I watched the game on TV with all my friends, who as you can probably guess, were ardent Sunderland fans.
  • A lot of footballers including ex Sunderland and Leeds players have died or are suffering with dementia-related illnesses with speculation that it could be associated with heading the old-style leather footballs (Jack Charlton, Dave Watson, Bobby Charlton, Denis Law, Martin Peters, Terry McDermott and Nobby Stiles to name but a few).
  • I have lived in Leeds for the last 30 years but grew up in the North East and am a Sunderland supporter.

The route will take me from Leeds to Sunderland avoiding all motorways and dual-carriageways:-

Day 1 – Elland Road, Leeds to Wetherby (15.13 miles)
Day 2 – Wetherby to Boroughbridge (12.33 miles)
Day 3 – Boroughbridge to Thirsk (13.23 miles)
Day 4 – Thirsk to Great Smeaton via Northallerton (14.17 miles)
Day 5 – Great Smeaton to Stockton-On-Tees (13.43 miles)
Day 6 – Stockton-On-Tees to Shotton Colliery (near Peterlee) (14.59 miles)
Day 7 – Shotton Colliery (near Peterlee) to the Stadium of Light, Sunderland (12.89 miles)

You can find details of my challenge, and make a donation to raise funds for local dementia charities in Leeds, or in Sunderland, depending on who you want to support!

Allan Surtees