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      Away by bike: Palace fan who cycled to every away game prepares for Bike to Wolves


      For most people, an away day means faffing about with train tickets, inevitable delays and packed carriages – but it doesn’t have to be that way. There is an alternative: life on the open road…

      Stephen Kingdom is a veteran of Palace’s for Life’s Bike to events, and ahead of this year’s Bike to Wolves fundraising challenge, he looked back on a remarkable season cycling to every away game and the benefits of these challenges in improving the lives of young south Londoners.

      Time is running out to sign up – the deadline to register for this year’s event is Sunday, 31st March – and you can join Stephen and many other supporters cycling to Molineux to watch Palace take on Wolves in May.

      In doing so, you will be raising valuable funds for the young local community with which his family has so long been associated.

      Stephen’s plan began as so many great plans do: as a silly idea over a pint.

      “It literally started with something I mentioned in the pub,” he remembers. “ I used to go drinking in a bar in Tooting, and I used to chat with the manager there, and we kind of planned it out on the back of a napkin over a few drinks.

      “I'd read various books of people doing mad cycling things, like cycling the route of the Tour de France, or cycling down the Iron Curtain, and things like that, and I just fancied doing a silly challenge.

      “Because of my work circumstances, I took a voluntary redundancy package from somewhere I'd worked for a long time, which gave me enough money to have a bit of a break, and a bit of a career break, and a bit of a chance to re-evaluate what I was doing with my career.

      “I thought: ‘I'll never get a chance like this again, so why don't I go for it, raise some money for charity, and see the country, see every palace going for a season, and ride a stupid amount of miles doing it?’”

      It’s one thing to plan such an adventure, but its another to follow it through – particularly in a Premier League season like 2016/17. With Middlesbrough and Sunderland still in the top-flight, the games were hardly local.

      “They actually both fell on the same month, in September,” Stephen explains. “They were Saturday games.

      “I'd set off on the Wednesday, get to Middlesbrough or Sunderland on the Friday night, stay there on the Friday night, go to the match on the Saturday, stay there again on the Saturday night, and then take three days to come home. So it was a week away for the whole trip.

      “It was Middlesbrough first, then I came back, and we had a game at Selhurst, and then I had to go back up to Sunderland.

      “That was actually the worst bit, though, because as soon as I got back from Sunderland on the Tuesday, I set off on the Wednesday, because we had back-to-back away games and we were playing Everton on the Friday night.

      “So I actually came home and then immediately turned round and rode up the other side of the country to go to Liverpool to see us play Everton. A lot of people ask me: ‘Why didn't you just stay up north?’

      “But it would have been quite a bit of time on my own, missing the family again, so I wanted to get home in between for an evening, but just for one night.”

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      When you look back, you just remember the joy of it. It was a great way to see the country. You see the landscape change over the season.

      Stephen Kingdom

      It’s some schedule. As always, the results dictated the mood on the road, but Stephen was always confident that – however hard things became – he was having a unique and remarkable experience for one season only.

      “We won at Liverpool and we won at Sunderland, so I was in quite a good mood,” he says. “It was when I was riding back from Swansea after we'd lost 5-4 that might have been the one when I was wondering what I was doing.

      “It was as gruelling as it was enjoyable. It's one of these funny things. I have a rose-tinted view of memory of it and I think of it as great, but I wrote a blog as I was going round and when I read my blog, I remember how hard it was at times and how some of the times I was struggling.

      “But when you look back, you just remember the joy of it. It was a great way to see the country. You see the landscape change over the season. You see it at speed when you're whizzing up a motorway or whizzing on a train. You just don't see the country like that.”

      Now, the Bike to events – on which Stephen has ridden to Bournemouth, Southampton and Aston Villa in aid of the Palace for Life Foundation – are a reminder of all the good parts of his adventure, without so much of the gruelling, solo struggle.

      Bike to Aston Villa | Palace For Life Foundation

      “I have to say one of the really nice things about the Palace for Life Bike to events is actually cycling with other people,” he says. “Being in a group is so good, and it’s so enjoyable and a real contrast in that sense.

      “It's nice not having to worry about where you're going to stop for food, because it's all laid on a plate for you. The route has been worked out for you, you don't have to work it out yourself, there's somewhere to stop for snacks. It’s all arranged, so it's lovely.

      “There’s a real community now, and that’s nice.”

      It’s a community that is still welcoming new participants, and Stephen has nothing but encouragement for those who want to try cycling that kind of distance for the very first time.

      “I would just say: ‘Go for it!’ The logistics are taken care of, you get a lovely shirt, you get a match ticket, you get a hotel, you get fed and you get all the camaraderie.

      “We go out in different groups, so people are grouped by how strong a cyclist they feel, so you won’t get left behind. Everyone will get there – it’s a range of cycling ability.

      “The team at Palace for Life have also arranged practise opportunities, and everyone is willing to give advice and support.

      “If you’ve ever sat on a bike, give it a go!”

      Why take part?

      Not only is the ride an incredible physical feat, Bike to Wolves will be a great way to connect with likeminded Palace fans, watch the Eagles in action, and most importantly, raise funds for young south Londoners.

      The money you raise will go towards three key areas of the Foundation's work:

      • Keeping more young people away from knife crime, violence and anti-social behaviour
      • Helping more young people find career & job opportunities
      • Supporting more young people with their mental & physical health