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Paul joins 92 club after his challenge of a lifetime

10 October 2012

By Tony Dewhurst

When football-mad Paul Hodgkinson discovered he was losing his eyesight, he set himself the challenge of a lifetime.

Paul, from Wakefield, lost his eye in an accident as a teenager, and had to give up his job as an electrician after the sight in his other eye began to deteriorate three years ago.

So, while he could, Paul set off on the challenge of a lifetime last April, to walk to all 92 League grounds.

The challenge; to raise £20,000 for the Royal National Institute of Blind People along with Leukaemia and Lymphona Research, covering a gruelling 2,470 miles in 154 days.

"I'd gone through three pairs of walking boots, lost four stone and I was physically and mentally shattered when I rolled into Doncaster on a rainy day in August," said Paul, who has been warned he could lose his sight forever.

"My spirits were very low, but I was met by a lad called Liam Scully, who runs Doncaster Rovers Community Sports & Education Foundation, and he gave me a terrific welcome - it meant an awful lot to me at the time.

"Football can make the wrong headlines sometimes, but this was the true face of football in action.

"The community staff couldn't do enough for me. Liam promised that when I finished the walk he would invite me back to watch a game at Doncaster.

"People like him, and the incredible work they do behind the scenes in the community, deserve special praise."

So when Doncaster Rovers hosted Roses rivals Preston North End in their npower League 1 fixture, they rolled out the red carpet for the dad-of-one.

"It was especially poignant to see that fixture because Doncaster and Preston really gave me a helping hand with the fund-raising," added Paul, who began his walk at Tranmere Rovers and completed his across Britain hike at Liverpool in September.

On his visit to Deepdale, Preston North End owner Trevor Hemmings donated £1,000 to the cause after Hemmings had met Paul's parents in a cafe in the Isle of Man where they informed the Preston owner about their son's challenge.

"That was an incredible gesture by Preston - I had a tear in my eye that day," he said.

The 45-year-old Liverpool fan completed the challenge under the banner Walking We Are United, after he was inspired by the story of Anfield's Australian goalkeeper, Brad Jones, who lost his son to leukaemia.

"In Leeds, I was told a young lad called Alex wanted to meet me," recalled Paul.

"Alex was suffering from leukaemia and said that he had followed my progress during the walk online and that it had really helped him during his illness.

"There was many times when I thought I couldn't go on, but that young lad gave me the inspiration I needed to finish the walk."

Paul added: "I ran into lamp posts, tripped over kerbs, tramped through snow in the middle of May, but meeting so many amazing people has restored my faith in human nature.

"Without the help of the RNIB and the football family, then I'm not sure I'd be here now because I've had some very dark times.

"Before I lose my sight completely, I wanted to do something that I knew will help many people and raise as much money as possible for those fantastic charities."

Liam Scully, Chief Executive for Doncaster Rovers Foundation, said: "To finish that walk was an incredible achievement. Youngsters are crying out for great role models and Paul Hodgkinson is an inspiring example of that."

Click here for details of a special fund-raising auction

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