Carlisle football boys in fundraising walk for Tony Hopper
Dozens of football-mad youngsters are preparing to go the extra mile for Tony Hopper.
The young players from Cotehill and Cumwhinton Crusaders Soccer School are embarking on an 11-mile sponsored walk to raise money for the former Carlisle United player, who is suffering from motor neurone disease.
They will start at Walton, near Brampton, and eventually finish at Brunton Park hours before the Blues' big play-off clash with Exeter tomorrow night.
Hopper's former United team-mate Paul Boertien, who coaches the Crusaders' under-7 team, is helping organise the walk.
He said: "We are hopefully looking at about 70 to 80 taking part, players, coaches and parents.
"The teams from under-7s up to under-16s are going to be walking.
"Tony's eldest son Dan plays in the Crusaders set-up in the under-10s and he is going to be taking part as well.
"Lots of people have been keen to get involved and do something to show our support for Tony."
Boertien said everyone at the club knows Hopper well and wanted to do something to help the former Blues and Workington Reds midfielder.
The money raised will go directly to Tony and his family to help with any equipment and alterations to his house as his condition - bulbar-onset MND - develops.
"Myself, Mark Birch and Phil Pattison [coaches at Crusaders] got together and felt we had to do something," Boertien added.
"You feel so helpless with what Tony and his family are going through, but we wanted to do something that would help them and also something where we could involve the kids of all ages."
The walk is going from Walton, near Brampton, along the Hadrian's Wall route - to Newtown, through Crosby-on-Eden, Linstock, Rickerby and ending up at Carlisle's ground.
"The catering team at United have agreed to open one of the lounges early for when we get back, and a lot of us will then stay and go to the game," Boertien added.
Former left-back Boertien, who played in the Premier League with Derby after starting at United, said he had nothing but good memories of Hopper from their respective times at Brunton Park.
"He's just a nice guy, as everyone says - that's why it's so heartbreaking," said Boertien, who is also set to play in a big charity match for Hopper at United's ground next Sunday.
"When you come through the YTS system at a club it's not the easiest thing and you need people to help you and carry you through.
"Tony was always there. You would get some pros who would see you as a bit of a threat, and give you a hard time, but Tony did nothing but encourage me.
"He was a couple of years older than me and when I turned professional, and played alongside him, he helped me through games all the time.
"He would never say anything negative - just words of advice and encouragement."
Boertien said Crusaders appreciated the help they have received towards the walk from Primrose Coaches, Stewart's Coaches, Tesco, McDonald's, Carlisle United, No10 Catering and Michael Bird from Domino's Pizza.
All those taking part have sponsor forms, while anyone who wants to donate can also contact Paul on firstname.lastname@example.org
The News & Star is also backing the Hoppers' bid to raise money for the MND Association with our 'Fighting Back for Tony' campaign.
To donate to their 'fightback fund', which has already raised more than £10,000, visit https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/Tony-Hopper