Tackling prostate cancer

I didn’t really know much about prostate cancer until recently – just a vague awareness through supporting AFC Wimbledon that Prostate Cancer UK is an official partner with the English Football League, and that every year they do a fundraising cycle ride called Football to Amsterdam to raise money to tackle the disease.

But last weekend I found myself stood in the freezing cold outside Wimbledon’s home ground, Kingsmeadow, shaking a bucket as one of the volunteers taking part in a collection before our home match with Charlton Athletic. How did it happen?

It started late last summer, through my role as a communications volunteer for the Dons Trust, when our chairman Matthew Breach received an email from a Tottenham fan called Kevin Fitzgerald. Kevin was planning a single-day group ride around all of London’s Premier and Football League grounds – a ride of around 100 miles – in order to help raise awareness about Football to Amsterdam.

I helped organise a bit of advance publicity for their ride and joined them on the day for part of it, cycling from South Wimbledon to Kingsmeadow where we went pitch-side and Kevin was interviewed for an article for the club’s website.

Kevin’s ride worked its magic on me, at least: I soon signed up to do the ride in 2017, where I will be part of a team of a currently five-strong Wimbledon squad.

AFC Wimbledon’s commercial executive, Pietro (who did the ride last year), has been very supportive, but it’s frustrating that the club is cautious about allowing too many bucket-shaking activities at home matches. It’s understandable, in a way: more than many clubs, we rely on fan donations and raffle tickets and fundraising activities to help raise money towards our playing budget. Too many collections and too many raffles would soon lead to donation fatigue. But, as someone keen to fundraise, it’s frustrating nonetheless.

So when I heard that Prostate Cancer UK were doing a collection before the Charlton match – a consequence of their status as an official EFL partner – I viewed this as the next best thing. Even if the money raised wouldn’t count towards my fundraising total for the ride to Amsterdam, it was a way to get direct to Wimbledon fans and into their pockets and purses for a good cause.

And it is a good cause. The facts about prostate cancer have staggered me. I didn’t realise quite how common it is. One in eight men will get prostate cancer during their lifetime, and this rises to one in four among black men. Over 47,000 men are diagnosed with prostate cancer every year – that’s 130 men every day – and every hour a man dies.

On the day, I met the voluntary event co-ordinator, Matt, at the ground at 1pm and was handed my tabard and collection bucket. Paired up with another volunteer, Roy (a football fan who lives locally but isn’t a Wimbledon fan – a perfect example of how football fans can come together for a common cause) we were giving the challenging collection point just before the turnstiles, by which time people would have already walked past other bucket shakers. (We weren’t actually allowed to physically shake a bucket: I guess the Charity Commission think it’s too intimidating!)

Collecting for Prostate Cancer UK at AFC Wimbledon v Charlton Athletic.  (Pic: Matt Benjamin)

Collecting for Prostate Cancer UK at AFC Wimbledon v Charlton Athletic. (Pic: Matt Benjamin)

The generosity was striking, as despite the cold weather people took hands out of pockets to make their donation. The way that some people saw us and determinedly strode over to make their donation was heartwarming; hearing from people with personal experience of beating the cancer was humbling. And I learned a valuable lesson: it was tempting to see a group of younger fans coming towards us and think, ‘They won’t want to donate’, but they were often among the most generous. Stereotypes: they do nobody any favours!

We also met Ed Wood, a Derby County supporter who was at the match coincidentally as part of his bid to raise money for Prostate Cancer UK by watching matches at all of the Premier and Football League grounds in England in just 189 days – a challenge he completed yesterday to earn himself a place in the Guinness Book of Records.

On the day we raised almost £750, a fantastic total which just beats the total raised at the equivalent collection last season.

So now my thoughts start to turn back to my own fundraising and that ride to Amsterdam. I’m too shy to organise fundraising events myself, but I’ve got a few publicity-raising ideas on the backburner and hopefully we can raise the profile of AFC Wimbledon’s contribution over the next few weeks and months.

In the meantime, you can sponsor me by visiting my JustGiving fundraising page – all donations make a difference to Prostate Cancer UK and to those affected by prostate cancer.