A Nottingham Forest season ticket holder whose eldest child was stillborn says he is “overwhelmed” with the support he has received after walking from Wales to the City Ground alone to commemorate what would have been his son’s 10th birthday.
Andrew Johnson arrived at the football stadium Saturday 21st September after embarking on the 12-day solo walk along the UK’s canal network from his home village of Llanwddyn in memory of Fletcher, who was born sleeping on 21 September 2009 at 39 weeks.
Nottingham-based family business UK Meds – which is the sponsor of Nottingham Forest’s new season and back of shirt and training wear – donated £1,200 to pay for Andrew’s food and accommodation along the 165-mile route. Managing director Joe Soiza also helped to give Andrew the final push after joining him for the last leg of the journey.
Andrew, 50, said: “Completing the challenge and making it to the City Ground is something I’m extremely proud of. I remember on day three, eight miles into the walk – I felt like I could no longer move and was ready to give in. I think I even sat down and cried.
“On that particular day I had been walking alongside a canal boat all morning and they had just left me behind. I went around the next bend to find the two Aussie couples from the boat had set up lunch on a picnic bench. I was invited to join them, given a glass of red wine, some cooked meats, cheese and biscuits and encouraged to talk about Fletcher. That gave me the boost that I needed. I didn’t look back after that moment.”
Fletcher’s death was completely unexpected as all of the scans had indicated that he was perfectly healthy. Andrew, who became a Reds’ supporter in 1975 after being introduced by his friend, said: “Me and my wife Colleen were sitting in the living room counting his kicks and then, three hours later, he was gone and we were told Colleen would have to give birth to our son sleeping.
“It has been, and continues to be, really difficult to process what happened. Fletcher’s death has left a massive hole in our family – it’s hard to put it into words. But we know he is with us and we always make sure he’s in our plans and remembered by his family.
“I’ve always wanted to do something in memory of Fletcher and, seeing as I turned 50 this March and Fletcher would’ve been 10, it seemed fitting to mark the two milestone birthdays. Fletcher would have loved Llanwddyn and I really hope he’d have shared my passion for Forest too, so it made sense for the two places to be the start and end points.
“Watching Forest take on Barnsley at the City Ground, which fell on Fletcher’s birth date, was the perfect ending to my personal pilgrimage. It was a way for me to say to Fletcher, ‘son, we made it’. He may not have been there physically, but I know he was with me every step of the way.”
So far, the walk has raised more than £4,400 – exceeding Andrew’s target of £3,652 – the total amount of days he spent without Fletcher when his birthday arrived. The money will be donated to Abigail’s Footsteps, which raises awareness of stillbirth in the UK, and Llanwddyn Community Centre.
He said: “It all links up nicely – Abigail’s Footsteps was set up in memory of Abigail Ward, who also would’ve been celebrating her 10th birthday this year, and then there’s our local community centre, which Fletcher would’ve attended for nursery up until the age of five.
“When Colleen and I sat down and decided on a target, I remember thinking ‘If I get to £500, I’ll be amazed’. So, to have exceeded not only this but also our target is fantastic. I’m amazed and completely overwhelmed. I’d just like to thank everyone that has donated and helped to raise such a staggering figure.”
Joe Soiza – who founded UK Meds, a leading online pharmacy, three years ago – is also a lifelong Forest fan. He said: “Meeting Andrew for the first time when he arrived in Nottingham was really emotional. Standing before me was someone who had just walked more than 165 miles, from another country in memory of his son, who should have been celebrating his 10th birthday. When Andrew contacted us and told us Fletcher’s story, we knew we wanted to get involved. I hope our donation has helped to take the pressure off the challenge financially.”
Andrew, who also has two daughters aged six and eight, added: “I had the idea for the walk, but it meant taking time off work and, of course, paying to stay over in villages, which isn’t cheap. UK Meds paying for my accommodation and food has really helped to make this entire feat possible. I couldn’t be more grateful.”
To sponsor Andrew Johnson and donate to Abigail’s Footsteps, please visit: uk.virginmoneygiving.com/FletcherMemorialWalk2019.
For more information on UK Meds, please visit: www.ukmeds.co.uk.