THREE friends are cycling 400 miles across four countries for an ex-Observer journalist who was diagnosed with cancer.
Close mates of Matt Bates are riding from a Warwickshire football club to an Amsterdam side of the same name after the 26-year-old was diagnosed with a rare and aggressive form of kidney cancer.
Matt, who started his journalism career at the Observer back in 2010 and stayed there for four years, was diagnosed in October 2014 – just two months after he left the paper.
The ride – dubbed Ajax To Ajax – will be launched on Easter Monday (Monday, March 28) with a football match at the Hampton Road club, before ending six days later with the more famous Ajax playing a Dutch League game.
Matt, from Leamington Spa, had successful surgery in October 2014 to remove an 11cm tumour from his right kidney as well as 11 lymph nodes. However, six months later the cancer returned and has since spread to his lung, spine and adrenal gland.
He played at Central Ajax with the three mates undertaking the ride – Sam Canty, Joe Weston and Matt Wells – from the age of 12, with the group later going on to coach the club’s Under 18 side between 2011 and 2013. The football match launching the ride will see that younger team take on a group of Matt’s former school and team mates.
It will kick off at 11am and be open to the public with food and refreshments available, before the trio will set off on the ride with the help of three other friends in a support vehicle.
They will head south through Milton Keynes, before stopping off at Wembley to watch England take on the Netherlands in a Euro 2016 warm-up match. Day three will seem them ride to Dunkirk in France via the Eurotunnel, before two long days in the saddle to Rotterdam and then onto Amsterdam, where they will see Ajax take on Zwolle.
They are aiming to keep people up to date on their travels via their Twitter account – @AjaxtoAjaxCycle – and Facebook page – Ajax to Ajax Cycle.
Sam, 27, said: “We wanted to fundraise in a way that was memorable and special to everyone involved.
“We played in the same team for years but all went to different universities so ended up drifting apart a bit. And it was the club that brought us all together again when we started coaching, so revolving the ride around Ajax seemed like an obvious decision.
“We’re all massive football fans in general so when we heard England were playing the Netherlands – our final destination – we had to go and get tickets. It was too big a co-incidence not too.”
He added: “We’ve become even closer since Matt’s diagnosis and want to use the ride as a bit of positivity for Matt and his family.”
Matt started a specialist immunotherapy treatment in Manchester late last year, although it is unclear how effective that has been and he may need to look at other options – possibly abroad.
More than £4,000 has already been raised with all cash going towards current and future treatment and associated costs – such as accommodation for his family during stints in hospital.
Matt said: “It’s become clear in recent months that people are desperate to help – and this is how they want to do it, which is an amazing feeling.
“We will never stop looking for ways to beat my cancer – whether that be in the UK or abroad – and will try anything that can give me a half a chance. To have the financial support to make that possible means a lot to both me and my family.”
He added: “We have set up a new bank account for all donations, and any money left over at the end of my treatment will be given to cancer charities that have helped us along the way.”
Matt has launched a website and blog to keep family and friends updated and to raise awareness of kidney cancer, which more than 10,000 people are diagnosed with each year. Symptoms can be hard to spot and many patients – such as Matt – are not diagnosed until the disease is advanced.
To donate towards Ajax to Ajax, visit www.facebook.com/ajaxtoajaxcycle and follow the links. To read Matt’s blog, visit www.matt-bates.co.uk .