Drive of my life: South Yorkshire businessman’s epic journey to visit all 92 football league clubs in as many hours

At Crawley, where the team got invited onto the pitch for a photo and presented with team shirts to auction.
At Crawley, where the team got invited onto the pitch for a photo and presented with team shirts to auction.
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Doing the 92 is a football fan’s holy grail, and John Whaling, who runs Affinity Telecoms Solutions and Care Plus Innovation, achieved it. He visited all 92 clubs in the English football league in 92 hours in aid of Rotherham Hospice, where he is a trustee.

When my father-in-law Brian Howlett arrived at Rotherham Hospice we thought he had only days to live.

The crew pick up the van. L to r:- Rotherham Hospice trustee John Whaling, Sheffield Eagles' community manager Adam Hughes, Matt Payne and James Whaling.

The crew pick up the van. L to r:- Rotherham Hospice trustee John Whaling, Sheffield Eagles' community manager Adam Hughes, Matt Payne and James Whaling.

But the 77-year-old rallied and lived for eight more weeks - and we were so very grateful for that extra time with him.

The day after his death my youngest son James, now 23, decided we ought to fundraise for the hospice in his grandfather’s memory and suggested visiting all 92 English football league grounds in 92 hours, covering 2,486 miles.

My son-in-law Matthew Payne and friend, Sheffield Eagles’ community manager Adam Hughes, agreed to join us and we set £3,000 as our target. I am chairman of the Include Foundation, a charity aligned to Sheffield Eagles which helps to get kids with challenging behaviour to integrate through sport, so we decided to split the money between the charity and hospice.

My former employers SIG Insulation sponsored us, along with GRI Group and Genco Logistics. Northside Commercial Vehicles loaned us a Mercedes Citan van and Adhere Industrial Tapes offered to pay for the diesel.

At Accrington Stanley, one of the 92 English league clubs they needed to visit.

At Accrington Stanley, one of the 92 English league clubs they needed to visit.

Eagles chaplain Baz Gascoigne waved us off from Barnsley’s Oakwell ground at 7:30am. I took the wheel first and headed to Elland Road in Leeds, then to Bradford’s Valley Parade and on to Huddersfield. Our aim was to do the north of England - 31 clubs - on the first day.

We hit the M62 and headed for Wigan and the Merseyside clubs, then back to Manchester and Lancashire and up the M6 to Blackpool and Fleetwood, then north to Carlisle and across to Newcastle.

The sat-nav got us to the grounds easily, but thick fog slowed us down as we worked our way to York, then across to Hull and Scunthorpe.

The plan was to get back home that night and there were just two clubs between us and our beds - Doncaster and Rotherham. But we got home six hours behind schedule. It was 5am when we got to bed.

At 10am we set off for Sheffield FC. It isn’t a league ground, but we did the home of football as a bonus.

More fog slowed us down on the journey to Norwich, Ipswich and Colchester and we hit London around 10pm.

East and north London were quite easy, but the fog got so thick that at Oxford we couldn’t find the stadium, even though we were already in the club’s car park. We got Google Earth on the ipad and worked out how to get to the gates. We got to Chelsea, ground number 59, at 6am but the security guard wouldn’t let us in.

After Fulham, Wimbledon, Charlton, Millwall and Gillingham we hit the M23 to Crawley, where we received the best welcome - the chief executive invited us onto the pitch for a photo.

We toured clubs on the south coast and were back on the road again at 5am. We ticked off Bristol, Swindon, Newport’s County Ground, Cardiff and Swansea, then realised Newport fans were messaging us on Twitter to say we had been to their old ground. We had to go back to visit the new one. We toured the midlands, then Shrewsbury, Crewe and the potteries. The only two left were Sheffield United and Wednesday. We finished our trip at 9.45pm on Friday, but our triumphant moment passed without ceremony. The Wednesday ground was shut!

We raised £7,500. Brian would have been over the moon - even though he didn’t like football!