IMAGINE walking across the country to watch your football team in action – only to see them lose!

That was how eight middle-aged Chelmsford City fans spent a week this spring as they completed a 230-mile pilgrimage from the beautiful west country to Kent’s garden of England to support three causes.

The walk took in beautiful coastal scenery

Jon Read, 54, Gavin Brewer, 56, Phil Watts, 55, Mark Heginbotham, 55, Alistair Whipps, 59, Richie Bethell, 44, Richard Macey, 47, and Ross Rogers, 44, take a bow sons for you have earned it (and we won’t mention that 3-1 defeat at Maidstone United – we promise!).

All live in mid or north Essex and have (or had) jobs in the finance industry, civil service, landscaping or charity sector – they are just normal fellas who made an extraordinary effort.

They were ably assisted by retired Alan Jones, 68, who drove the ‘team bus’ and plied everyone with chocolate bars and cuppas, as well as successfully canvassing pub goers for donations along the way.

The life-long pals have been fundraising in their walking boots for 15 years now and this time around proceeds will be split equally between three organisations close to their hearts.

The life savers at Essex & Herts Air Ambulance (EHAAT), homeless helpers at CHESS, along with community projects at the Chelmsford City Supporters’ Club, will all get at least a £2,300 bump in their coffers this summer.

The group set out to raise £5,000 but are already over the £7,000 mark, and the totalometer is climbing…

The cliffs at Seven Sisters and Beachy Head

They set off from the brilliantly named Hell Lane, an infamous and mysterious former smugglers pathway in Dorset, at the crack of dawn on Saturday, April 23, and headed towards West Bay and the Jurassic Coast.

Bound for Weymouth, they walked some of Chesil Beach before a brutal hike through Lulworth Cove and Durdle Door.

After that they headed north through Bournemouth and into the scenic New Forest, then through the principal Hampshire cities of Southampton and Portsmouth.

After that they rejoined the coast again at Pagham village, before traversing Worthing then Brighton and passing the iconic chalky cliffs at Seven Sisters and Beachy Head.

The final leg saw them head due north at Eastbourne all the way to their destination, Maidstone United FC’s Gallagher Stadium, which they reached just after midday on Saturday, April 30.

Pushed-to-the-front group spokesman Jon confirmed he has now “officially had my fill of sleeping with other men” – at least until they set out on their next fundraising adventure.

The steep hills and shingled pathways were hard on the group’s feet and aching muscles

He explained how shingle beaches had left feet battered and bruised, while a harsh easterly wind means many of their weather-beaten number were left “resembling a 90-year old Cornish fisherman”.

Jon added: “We ate copious full English breakfasts along the way, used our body weight in Compede blister plasters, and were more Ralgex muscle rub than men at one point! But we revelled in the camaraderie that a group of ne’er-do-well middle aged men can muster.

“The pledges were always rolling in as we went along the route and that kept our spirits high.

“We also had a few challenges thrown our way, including one for Richie who offered to run into the bracing English Channel at Worthing up to his neck if we could raise a three figure sum in 24 hours.

“And I’m happy to say we did that as fellow Chelmsford fans were never going to let that opportunity pass by!

Richie Bethell’s hilarious entry into the cold English Channel

“There were a handful of City fans there to greet us at the finish line and the stadium’s chief steward Trevor McDonald gave us a prime parking space and was a real star, as was everyone at Maidstone United.

“And that night, all a tad broken, we decamped to The Thirsty Pig pub in central Maidstone, where the landlord bought us all a few jugs of booze.

“We laughed and sang songs and then finally had to walk two miles at midnight when we left because we couldn’t get a taxi – which was just what we all needed!”

The guys received a warm welcome when they reached the end of their journey at Maidstone United FC

The group started their fundraising exploits in 2006 when they raised more than £5,000 by completing the Three Peaks Challenge in support of Farleigh Hospice.

Since then – notwithstanding a pandemic enforced break – they have done a different fundraiser every year and generated tens of thousands of pounds for charities including learning disability specialists Mencap, homelessness-focused Cool to be Kind, and the South Western Ambulance Service NHS Foundation Trust.

These guys are stonewall Essex community heroes and you can make a JustGiving donation for their latest efforts by clicking here.