Ryan's 21 Club Cycle Challenge finishes in style
After nine months and more than 1,100 gruelling miles on the roads and cycle lanes of southern England, our National League South Head Researcher Ryan O’Connell has finally completed his target of cycling to all 21 grounds in the league.
Inspired to be healthier and greener, Ryan kicked off his challenge last August by travelling to Ebbsfleet United’s Stonebridge Road. He finished this past Saturday with the longest trip of all, a 150 mile trek, split over two days, from his base in Crawley to Twerton Park, the home of Bath City.
Four members of the Sports Interactive team, as well as special guest Ian Holloway and a representative from Prostate Cancer UK joined Ryan for the final game of the season, Bath coming from 3-1 down to secure a 3-3 draw with promotion-chasing Oxford City.
Through the 95 fatigue-inducing hours he’s spent on two wheels, Ryan has suffered two punctures (including one on the final day), travelled a total of 1,168 miles and climbed a staggering 44,000 feet.
Having now finished, Ryan looks back on his challenge fondly: “I’m exhausted, delighted, overwhelmed and, to be honest, a little sad that it’s all over. It’s been an exciting adventure cycling all over London, Essex, Hertfordshire, Kent, Berkshire and wherever Chippenham and Bath are. It's been brilliant meeting so many of the people that make non-league football so special.
“There have been so many highlights and amazing moments that it’s hard to pick only a few but some standout memories are:
- St Albans City making me a guest of honour in their boardroom - they do a lot for Prostate Cancer UK so that was a real honour
- Dulwich Hamlet donating their 50/50 draw money to the campaign
- Dorking Wanderers letting me interview Marc White and donating a substantial amount to hit our (then) target
- Ellis Platten from Away Days getting involved and coming over to Billericay to watch some liquid football from the away team (Dorking)
- Hungerford Town letting me use one of their changing rooms to freshen up upon arrival
- Chelmsford City inviting me to spend some time chatting with Gillingham legend Simeon Jackson
- Meeting many of our Assistant Researchers in-person
- Countless players, managers, staff, club volunteers and fans donating, supporting the challenge and becoming people I can chat to whenever I see them play!
“I saved the furthest trip until last and I was blessed with glorious sunshine and the most scenic route by far. Once I arrived, I was thrilled to meet Ian Holloway, who'd taken time out to offer his congratulations which was a real honour. Being treated to a 3-3 draw on the last day of the season wasn’t bad going either!
“Thank you to the folks at Football Manager who've been extremely supportive throughout, donating generously, encouraging me to keep going when I wanted to give up (which was every other trip) and promoting the challenge whenever possible.
“I will never forget the 2021/22 season, the great people I've met along the way and the lifelong memories I've made.”
Ian Holloway said: “Cycling over 1,000 miles is an incredible achievement and I was delighted to meet Ryan after his final ride and present him with a cheque for Prostate Cancer UK. It was brilliant to be there to congratulate him on completing such a crazy feat of endurance - even if it did mean missing my beloved Bristol Rovers seal automatic promotion to League One!
“Prostate Cancer UK have been doing fantastic work in football for many years and it’s excellent to see Ryan doing his bit in the fight against the disease. I was more than happy to help him smash his fundraising target with a donation and I will continue to wear my Man of Men badge with pride.”
Ryan has also been putting himself through the pain barrier for a good cause, using his feats to raise money for Prostate Cancer UK. He was presented with a cheque for £3,300 before the Bath/Oxford game and is now over that mark. If you’d like to contribute before the JustGiving page closes, you can donate here: https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/thecyclingresearcher.
Matt Holdstock, Sport Engagement Manager at Prostate Cancer UK, said: “We’ve been keeping a keen eye on Ryan’s progress, so it’s fantastic to see him cross the finish line at Bath City after a gruelling season of cycling.
“Not only has Ryan raised a terrific total - which will help fund lifesaving research into prostate cancer - but by flying the Prostate Cancer UK flag at grounds across the National League South he has ensured that more men are aware of their risk of the disease, which affects one in eight men in the UK.
“Our thanks go to Ryan and Football Manager for their support this season, and we hope that Ryan can now put his feet up and enjoy a well-earned rest!”
Sports Interactive would like to say a few big thank yous. Firstly, to all the National League South clubs and who have helped Ryan with places to lock up his bicycle, given up programme space to celebrate his achievements and offered warm hospitality. Secondly, to everyone who has donated during the season – however big, your contributions are going to a good cause and will help people up and down the United Kingdom. Last but by no means least, our thanks go to Ryan for the dedication he’s shown in the name of Football Manager research.
We thought he was crazy when he first came to us with the idea but now he’s done it, we wonder what challenge we can get him to take on next season…