A super-fit football fan has completed an epic cycle tour of 72 stadiums to raise money for a mental health charity after his bike helped him cope with the stress of lockdown.

Stephen Kirley set out to pedal 2,000km round different football grounds after being furloughed then made redundant from his job as an optometrist.

He had used cycling as an escape from the strain of lockdown so decided to get on his bike to help people struggling with their mental health.

The 38-year-old picked the charity Tiny Changes, which was set up in memory of Scott Hutchison, the Frightened Rabbit singer who took his own life in 2018 after battling depression. Stephen said: “Scott’s death kind of hit home with me and friends in my age group.

“Young males find it quite difficult to share problems. I think there’s still a hang-up of bravado from a bygone era where you are seen as a weaker individual for sharing your problems.

“A couple of my friends had their own mental health troubles and have been fortunate to have been helped by Tiny Changes.

“I know first hand the work they do in getting people feeling a bit better. I just thought the government was making such a big play of mental health during lockdown that it was an excellent charity to work alongside.”

Stephen’s efforts have been praised by Scott’s older brother Neil Hutchison, a trustee of Tiny Changes, who said: “We are so grateful to Stephen for his incredible fundraising effort. We followed his progress with great interest on social media and were delighted to see him smash his target. Thanks again to him and well done!”

Stephen had been a keen runner who took part in 10k and half-marathon road races until pain in his knee and hip joints forced him to switch to cycling. He used the Cycle to Work scheme to buy a Boardman hybrid road bike for commuting.

But the dad-of-two only started clocking up the miles as his daily exercise at the start of lockdown in March when he was placed on furlough from his job as a domiciliary optometrist working in places such as care homes and young offenders institutions.

He added: “I personally thought cycling was good thinking time and a good way to clear my head.”

As his stamina increased, Stephen upped the distance of his rides from 10km to 35km, 55km and then 100km and started looking for a challenge that would test his endurance.

He opted to combine his love of football with being a fan of Frightened Rabbit, as he had been deeply saddened by the death of the Scottish band’s frontman. So he plotted a route that would see him cover 2,000km on a grand tour of football grounds, starting with Partick Thistle and finishing up at Anfield, the home of the club he supports, Liverpool FC.

Most of the rides were done by setting out on day trips from the home he shares with wife Karen and children Scott and Sophie in Coatbridge, North Lanarkshire. He also loaded his bike into the car to drive to the Highlands, Aberdeenshire, Angus and Fife as he completed a total of 24 days in the saddle over a six-week period.

© Andrew Cawley
Stephen on his bike

The toughest day came when he struggled with a headwind, punctured tyre and back pain during a 140km ride to Leith in Edinburgh to visit The Spartans FC, Edinburgh City and Hibs.

He added: “Coming back I had a headwind and the weather changed signifcantly. I had a slow puncture I couldn’t fix at the roadside and ended up with really severe back pain, so I wondered at that point if I was going to finish the challenge.

“I had to make a couple of physio appointments to get me through the last couple of weeks.”

But the pain was worthwhile when Stephen completed his challenge at Anfield just over a week ago and smashed his original £250 fundraising target. He has so far raised more than £1,600.

Donations can be made at www.justgiving.com/fundraising/stephen-kirley1