Charity walk was something to SHOUT about

Charity walk was something to SHOUT about: Ian Darler B.E.M completed his Walk to Qatar on the 19th November ahead of the clash with Accrington Stanley at the Abbey Stadium. The U’s Stadium Manager & Head Groundsman is raising money and awareness for Shout 85258 – the Club’s Mental Health partner – by walking the equivalent distance from London to Qatar ahead of the 2022 World Cup kick-off.

That’s an incredible 5,681,280 yards or 3228 miles!

Charity walk was something to SHOUT about

Charity walk was something to SHOUT about


Ian, tell us a bit about your background with mental health, and what motivated you to start your walk?

Having suffered and overcome mental health issues myself, I’ve got good knowledge of what it is when you’re at the lowest point in your life – however it was the tragic passing of a very close friend that made me start the walk for Shout 85285. Having spoken to him the day before he took his life – you would never had known there was anything wrong with him. It’s something I’ve since really beaten myself up about because I believe that anybody who hasn’t experienced mental health issues would probably think that when someone is suffering, they’re a misery and down in the dumps – but that’s not always the case. I managed to hide my depression and PTSD for over 18 months by laughing, joking and being over enthusiastic about everything but that in itself was exhausting.

When I spoke to my friend the day before he took his life, he was buzzing, he was really enthusiastic following Cambridge United’s results, and with him having been involved within the club for several decades all seemed normal, and he just seemed hyper due to all the success around the club.

What happened the following day will stay with me for the rest of my life, and I thought that if I could change this outcome for just one other person then I would do all I could to make it happen, so the walk was a simple way of getting the message out that if you are struggling with your mental health, don’t suffer in silence, you need to tell someone. Equally, if you think someone is struggling, you just need to ask them if everything’s okay, but don’t only ask once, ask them twice, are you sure you are okay. You may well be surprised by the reply?

What was the aim of the Walk to Qatar, Ian?

The walk was originally meant to be a million-step challenge, but following the success of that in getting people to talk about mental health, discussions between myself and the Club’s charity partner, Shout 85258 continued as we wanted to keep people talking about mental health and reduce the stigma that surrounds it and football is a great way of engaging people in discussion.

We then decided to extend the walk, with the World Cup looming, to 5.7 million yards, 3228 miles the distance between London and host nation Qatar.

The overall aim of both challenges was to raise awareness of mental health issues and make people aware of the help that is available. Shout 85258 offer an amazing service for anyone who is struggling with mental health and currently have on average 2,400 conversations a day.

What I didn’t expect was for people to reach out personally for my help. Over the past 12 months I’ve had dozens of people reach out to me acknowledging they have mental health issues and that they had never spoken to anyone about it before – several of which were people going through serious mental health challenges. I have also spoken twice at national conferences for the Football safety Officers Association which also had the dramatic effect of thirteen people coming forward to say they were suffering with mental health issues having never opened up about it before and they then assured me that they would seek professional help – Let me tell you this was more rewarding to me than winning Groundsman of the Year awards or getting a Queen’s honour, because that’s potentially saving somebody’s life.

I think people have either read the chapter Life Changing from my book Life’s A Pitch or from my walk diary entries on my charity website ( – to which they can relate to it. I’ve not had any professional training regarding mental health, only my personal experiences. I know how I cheated in terms of hiding my depression and PTSD, and I know how I recovered.

The last week of the walk I only had to walk 30 thousand yards to cover, in which the final steps of the walk were from Parkers Piece central Cambridge to the Abbey Stadium and took my step total to 6.2 million steps.

So far, how much money have you raised for Shout 85258 and how can people donate?

We’ve raised £16,000 and donations are still being pledged – which is absolutely incredible when you think of the state of the economy currently and how people are challenged financially. I think it’s just amazing how people are contributing, and they can rest assured that every penny they donate will help Shout and help others dealing with life’s challenges, these donations will potentially help save more lives.

People still wanting to donate can do so by visiting my charity page, which is There’s a whole section on there about the Walk to Qatar, which includes a button that takes you straight to the charity page you can donate to.

Every penny counts, and what I think people need to remember is that it could be someone in their family that it helps.

Following your incredible achievement, what’s next for Ian Darler?

The first thing is to give myself a break and have some good quality family time until Christmas, which I’m sure my family will appreciate! This walk which has lasted over 12 months has been really time consuming, but in the New Year I have  plans to hold a mental health lunch which will involve inviting companies and individuals in order to make them aware of some of the signs to look out for in their staff relating to mental health issues. We hope to have some top guest speakers from the football world in attendance.

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