Wilson hits the road for a chat with Matt

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FOR those of a certain age group, Bob Wilson is the bloke who presented Football Focus on the BBC for years.

Those of more mature years will remember Wilson the goalkeeper, an ever-present in Arsenal’s famous double campaign of 1970-71.

What no-one associates Wilson with is dressing in Lycra and peddling a bike.

Then again, neither did the man himself until a few months ago.

Wilson, one of the nicest blokes in the game, is in the midst of a cycle challenge to pedal his way around the country, visiting every Premier League ground. And he is particularly looking forward to his stop-off at Bloomfield Road next week.

He hopes to raise more than £250,000 for the Willow Foundation, the charity he and wife Megs set up after the death of their 31-year-old daughter Anna from a rare form of cancer.

The charity provides memorable days for the thousands of 16-to-40-year-olds who are who are diagnosed every year with a life-threatening illness.

Wilson explained “It has grown from a local to a national charity. We organise almost 15,000 special days a year. We rely completely on donations, and it costs £3m a year to sustain.

“That’s why I’m doing this, and it is – if further evidence was required – total proof that goalies are off their trolley.”

Wilson started his trek north from Fulham’s Craven Cottage and is due to reach Bloomfield Road on Monday, when he will be greeted by manager Ian Holloway and Matt Gilks.

Wilson recalls: “I remember Bloomfield Road well because Arsenal famously lost an FA Cup game just as I was getting established in the side (Suddick, Pickering and Burns getting the goals as Pool beat the Gunners 3-2 in a third round replay in January 1970).

“I always loved Blackpool because of Jimmy Armfield, a man I have nothing but admiration for.

“I watched the 1953 FA Cup final and I knew Sir Stanley Matthews.

“I was coaching in Toronto when I got a message asking me to meet him for a coffee. I couldn’t believe it.

“We got to know each other fairly well after that because I interviewed him for TV several times.

“In fact, I have his autobiography – an old paperback turning yellow – with a handwritten message in the front saying: ‘To my pal Bob, best wishes, Stan Matthews’.

“I’ve also got a copy of one of his playing contracts from Blackpool. He earned £4 in the close season, £8 during it.

“I think Stan was always a little upset he missed out on the money the players in my generation got, never mind the riches that came later.”

Wilson celebrates his 70th birthday later this year but remains a keen fan of the game, which is why he is looking forward to meeting Gilks (above).

“I love talking to fellow goalkeepers and I want to have a chat with Matt,” he added.

“I’ve been told he’s looking forward to meeting me, which I find astounding – I’m probably much more excited at the chance to meet him!

“I rate him highly and I think he was outstanding in the first half of the season.

“I saw him in the flesh at the Emirates, and even though it was 6-0 to Arsenal that day it would have been many more but for Gilks. He looks a really good keeper.”

I spoke to Wilson on the phone. We’d been told by the PR company who set it up that he would only have five minutes to spare.

It was true. He did. But he still spoke for a good quarter of an hour and it was me who had to end the conversation.

Perhaps that’s why Wilson is so popular in the sporting world and why people throughout the country are getting behind his charity adventure.

He added: “The support I’ve received so far has been so humbling.

“Every time we do an interview and a newspaper mentions what I am doing, we get a little surge of donations and that means the world to us,” he added.

“I’ve been training for the last six months, and although I’m a little saddle-sore hopefully I can complete it.

“One of the worst bits is near Blackpool – the five-mile climb out of Lancaster and towards the Pennines.

“So if you see an old fella looking in complete agony around there, it will be me!”

From the North-West, Wilson heads east and will complete his challenge at Newcastle’s St James’ Park.

Twenty Premier League clubs, 500 miles, 11 days – exhausting, but if anyone can do it, Bob can.

Donations can be made online at: www.justgiving.com/BobWilsonSoccerCycle

Alternatively you can text WILLOW to 70050 to donate £1.50 (the £1.50 will be added to your next phone bill, plus your standard network text charge).