Kenny McKeown: Reflections on The Road to Seville Cycle

May 6 dawned, the Road2Seville cyclists gathered on The Celtic Way, the apprehension and excitement were tangible, as Brother Walfrid looked on from his plinth.

The plan – following the unforgettable cycle inside the stadium and photocall at the tunnel – was to set off in small orderly groups to negotiate through the south side of Glasgow. This was thrown into disarray as Ange appeared to wish us all good luck. Thirty grown men and women turned into fan bhoys and ghirls, as hands were shaken, hugs shared and cameras clicked. What a gesture! What a man!

The departure from Celtic Park, Fenwick Moor and the Ayrshire Alps safely negotiated, the group (including Tom Boyd, Celtic FC Ambassador and great supporter of the cyclists), completed the 94 miles in fine form, arriving in Cairnryan in time for the ferry to Belfast.

Next up was a shorter day of appropriately 67 miles, but a very early start. A visit to the fantastic Willie Maley statue in Newry and a chat with some of the Willie Maley CSC members, followed by an invitation from the Táin Bhoys in Dundalk to watch the Hearts v Celtic match was on the agenda. The 2.15pm kick off put us under a bit of pressure but the mantra of ‘We Never Stop’ – not for the last time – was ringing in everyone’s ears. Safe to say we all made it in time to watch the Celts being confirmed Champions. What an afternoon and what a welcome from Eoin and the rest of the Táin Bhoys. The hospitality and the craic were mighty.

The 175-mile journey to the ferry in Rosslare via the Wicklow mountains and the beautiful Glendalough was good preparation for the days to come in Spain. We were sad to say goodbye to Ireland but, thankfully, a calm Bay of Biscay, a good sleep and some aerobics on the deck meant we arrived on Spanish shores refreshed.

Our good fortune of fine weather and fair winds in Scotland and Ireland didn’t hold as northern Spain provided us with typically Scottish weather for the next few days – wind, rain and hail were putting our cold weather gear and waterproofs to the test.

With the SPF 30 unused, undaunted we cycled some wonderful routes through rural Spain visiting Burgo de Osma, Pedraza and Talavera de Reina en route. Hilltop villages, Moorish architecture, lovely food and wonderfully friendly locals meant the efforts of each day melted away, as we discussed the trials and tribulations of the mountainous climbs and the exhilaration of the descents. One or two Cerveza also helped with the narrative!

Those descents led to (relatively) flatter routes and sunnier days, as we neared our destination. 1,040 miles, 18,000 metres of climbing, broken cranks, punctures and strained muscles were forgotten, as we negotiated the city traffic and rolled into the square beside Catedral de Santa María de la Sede (the largest church in the world after St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome) and the scene of the Celtic Family gathering twenty years previously.

Memories flooded back as everyone pointed out where they were and what they were doing all those years ago. Memories can be described as bitter sweet and this certainly falls into that category…we still should have won!

Emotional and tired we found our hotel, had a relaxing evening and next day headed to the Stadio Olimpico for the final photocall of the trip.  We cycled the track stopping at the places where we watched the match, calling family and friends and reminiscing of what was and what could have been. That’s football.

A final evening meal at a local restaurant gave us further opportunities to reflect, laugh and reminisce of then and now, but, let us not forget. Let us not forget why we trained during the cold winter months, let us not forget why we cycled over a thousand miles, let us not forget that in our local communities in the 21st century, parents are going without food so that their children don’t go hungry. Choices are being made to heat or to eat. Isolated and socially excluded individuals and groups are looking for support, a support that is provided by Celtic FC Foundation.

So, if you have donated to our efforts already, we offer you, our heartfelt thanks for helping us reach a wonderful £75K raised for Celtic FC Foundation. If you haven’t, then anything you can afford, big or small will be greatly appreciated. After all, we are the Celtic Family. This is what it means to be Celtic. Hail Hail and God bless.

Kenny McKeown, The Road to Seville Cycle