Furness footballers take on epic challenge

A week ago a group of intrepid, maybe slightly naive footballers set off on an a stellar challenge that would take many to breaking point!

Sport Furness dug deep into its coffers and sent Craig Rutherforth, Steven Gill and Rickie Wallbank down the pub with a few bob in their pocket to record their memories and feelings and the day and what they acheived. Craig has penned this report.

Coming through the junior ranks at Barrow Celtic as a 11 year old right through to open age, grass roots football cemented my lifelong love of football. Travelling, the changing room banter, winning, losing and drawing together, but most importantly making friends for life. Senior football at Dalton United where I most definitely had my best years a player, working under fantastic coaches, playing with great players but most importantly being around incredible people. Looking back, the volunteers who ensured that all we had to worry about was playing, were just amazingly selfless people, the heartbeat of any club. The time, sacrifices and effort they all put in was and is incredible. 

Being a player and then moving into coaching, especially with the Barrow AFC performance Centre and eventually the first team always meant I always felt that I couldn’t give anything back… until now.

So, I spoke to two great friends in Steven Gill and Rickie Wallbank, and shared a crazy idea to play football for 24 hours to raise funds for the Local Junior League and to support the Bluebirds Trust with their mission to improve facilities at Barrow AFC for supporters with disabilities.

I won’t bore you with the monumental detail that had to go into organising the event, but sleepless night soon became reality and we were good to go on Saturday June 19th, 6pm kick off…what had we let ourselves in for!!

Two teams of 21 players recruited – 1 representing the Barrow AFC Community Trust and 1 representing The Barrow and District Junior Football League, all primed for a 6pm Kick off at Furness Cavaliers, who were unbelievable hosts, matched by some fantastic and very generous sponsors.

We spoke to the players about pacing ourselves and rotating regularly to get through the 24 hours, well as you can imagine, in the true competitive nature of the players, the game started at an unbelievable pace, as neither team wanted to give an inch, possibly spurred on by the big crowd that had gathered. This lasted for at least two hours, which then needed the first rotations and the game continued at a hectic pace with fresh legs.

Once we started to settle into the night, it dawned on us that this was going to be a slog especially after being politely reminded by the ref that there was still 20 hours to go!! The pace naturally dropped.

Into the darkness we went, however we were lit up by the kindness of Barrow Fire Station and especially Watch Manager Mike Wilkinson, who’s Son Enzo got us started, Mike also brought portable floodlights to get us through what has now affectionately been named “The Grave Yard Shift” 

Half of each team took to their tents to get some well-earned rest, while the rest of us warriors remained and shared the pitch for the 11pm until 5:30am shift. Probably when the best football was played. This is where the comradery, laughs and sheer determination got us through. A night which brought everyone together and created an atmosphere that we will never forget and sorely miss. As the 4:45am mark approached the sky began to light up as did the players spirits until… we were reminded we were still not at half time.

Cometh the Morning Cometh the Men and Woman, Gilly and Rickie Wallbank produced a man of match performance, but not on the pitch, by on the grill, providing every player with a bacon buttie, and our sole Wonder Woman Yasmine Swarbrick finally got her well earned rest.

Daybreak brought the Cavalry out as the not so fresh faced players who had rested through the night came and put in a fantastic shift in to get us through the morning and to lunch time, with this brought the return of the crowd who throughout both days provided much needed support, not just through cheers and laughter, but through expresso machines and alcoholic rounds, another reason we all love our town and the people in it. 

We entered the final hour with the scores at 262 to 234 in favour of the Barrow AFC Community Trust Team, (constantly challenged by Gilly’s enthusiastic whinging) which brought, probably the most memorable part of the event “the Carnage”. Players were on their last legs, but a sudden up turn in energy levels and enthusiasm set in as every player entered the pitch to make it 21 v 21! (or The BDJFL team had 21 we had 18). This was possibly the most entertaining and dramatic part of the match as it somehow seemed like a new game and with the scores back at 0-0. The busy BDJFL team took an early lead from a long throw in, excellently headed home by Ryan Rodgers. An equaliser soon followed with a poachers finish from Lewis Knott on the line.

We entered the final 5 minutes and the ball fell to Danny Wallbank on the edge of the opposition box and he smashed home a rocket of a half volley into the bottom corner (a scuffed effort trickling through bodies, somehow finding it’s way into the net). The cheers and the celebrations were like we had won the world cup final! But the drama wasn’t over. What can only be described as a 24-man goalmouth scramble where bodies were literally put on the line to somehow keep the ball out of the Barrow AFC net.

The final whistle blew and what can only be described as relief, the players embraced and shared some very emotional moments with each other, their children, friends and families.

An absolutely monumental effort from every player, volunteer, sponsor and anyone else involved. 

We (Rickie, Gilly and myself) feel so privileged that these people gave up their time, put their bodies through the mill, to give something back to this great town, where we must say has the most amazing people with the most amazing community spirit!

As a collective we all agreed it was the single most physically and mentally challenging thing we have ever done.

We will now have memories forever thanks to Ian Allington and his fantastic photography, CanDo FM streaming and hour of the game and Matthew Dodd producing a video diary.

Thank you

If you havent already donated and feel you’d like to, the Just Giving page is below along with the link to the rest of the photos of the day

https://www.justgiving.com/crowdfunding/craig-rutherford-1

24 hr charity game

Written By
Ian Allington

Ian Allington

Cricket Correspondent

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