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In memory of his late father who took him to countless Scotland football matches, Moray man Alex Schweitzer-Thompson and a group of friends will cycle 327 miles from Edinburgh to Germany for Euro 2024 in fundraiser for Brain Tumour Research

By Craig Christie

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As a tribute to his late father, a Moray football fan has recruited his own Tartan Army to cycle from Scotland to Germany and cheer on their team in the European Championships.

Alex Schweitzer-Thompson with his late father Alan at a Scotland match at Hampden.
Alex Schweitzer-Thompson with his late father Alan at a Scotland match at Hampden.

Alex Schweitzer-Thompson cherishes countless memories of joining the Hampden Roar at international matches with his dad Alan, dating back to when Scotland last qualified for the World Cup in 1998.

Sadly Alan (71) passed away last December, just three months after being diagnosed with an aggressive brain tumour.

Alex (39) decided to do something special in his dad's memory, and a fundraising effort for the Brain Tumour Research charity seemed like the perfect way to do it.

A keen cyclist, he came up with a plan to recruit more than a dozen friends to pedal the 327 miles from his current base in Edinburgh all the way to the German city of Cologne, where Scotland will play their second match of this summer's Euro 2024 finals against Switzerland.

Some of the intrepid cyclists who will head to Cologne in June.
Some of the intrepid cyclists who will head to Cologne in June.

Their route will see them set off from the Royal Mile on the morning of June 14, reaching the English border at Coldstream after 68 miles in time to watch the Euro 2024 opener between Germany and Scotland.

The plan is then to cross the North Sea, traverse through the Netherlands and Germany in time to see Steve Clarke's men take on the Swiss in person, five days later.

And in a touching gesture, to replicate the Tartan Army relationship he held with his dad, Alex will return to Edinburgh before collecting his own son Drew (7) and flying back to Germany for Scotland's third group match against Hungary in Stuttgart.

"My dad was a massive football fan and some of our best footballing memories came from watching the Scotland teams of recent years," said Alex. "But, having watched every home match of Euro 2024 qualifying together, he passed away soon afterwards.

"Having planned to go to Germany with him, I thought the best way to preserve his memory would be to travel there with others who held him dear and to take on a challenge that will help raise funds towards research into a horrible disease that affects so many families."

See Facebook post below for link to Alex's fundraising page.

Alex was brought up in Garmouth with his family and attended Milne's High in Fochabers, before university took him to Edinburgh where he now works as a director of a media agency.

He has called his charity challenge 'And I Would Bike 300 Miles', a nod to Scottish football anthem '500 Miles' by The Proclaimers.

Alex has taken part in the Ride the North cycling challenge across Moray and Aberdeenshire on several occasions, which can involve travelling 100 miles in a day.

"That is the biggest one-day cycle I have done but I haven’t managed a multi-day cycle over a few hundred miles, like this one."

The group will pedal to the north-east of England, catch the ferry from North Shields to Ijmuiden, near Amsterdam in the Netherlands.

Having cycled 68 miles to get to Coldstream in time to watch the Euro 24 opener, they go 76 more miles through Northumberland to North Shields and the journey across the North Sea.

From the Dutch ferry port, a 17-mile trek takes them to Amsterdam, and the following day they join the Eurovelo 15, a dedicated cycle network along the Rhein which will firstly take them the 83 miles to Kleve in Germany, before the final leg of the journey, another 83 miles to Cologne in time for Scotland v Switzerland on June 19.

They hope to celebrate completing their adventure at the match, though they have yet to secure tickets and are prepared to watch on the big screens in the city otherwise.

"It’s five days, and four lengthy days among that, of quite taxing and challenging terrain," said Alex. "The hardest part I think will be the first two days, getting up to the English border and into Northumberland. Some of the climbs there, especially around Innerleithen, that is going to be a challenge for the boys.

"If Scotland win that first game on the first night when we’ve just reached Coldstream, that could be the impetus that we will need, as day two will be the toughest.

"We will need to get up fairly early the day after the Scotland game and it’s the only day where we run a really strict deadline because we have to get to the ferry at Newcastle by 3 o’clock - so we will be feeling the pressure.

"If we get any punctures that could be fairly tricky to negotiate.

"We will never be fewer than a dozen. In total we have 15 or 16 boys but some due to work commitments will do Edinburgh to Newcastle, then as we get on the ferry as many boys who are dropping off are joining us for the Amsterdam to Cologne leg."

And Alex won't be the only Moray native on the challenge, as one of his recruits is friend Stephen McConnachie, another ex-Milne's High pupil from Portknockie who now lives only half a mile away from Alex in the capital.

"Most of the group have never dreamed about taking on a challenge like this before, and we're certainly not in prime shape to do so.

"However, with plenty of backing from donors to our cause already, we'll be focusing our minds in the coming weeks and putting in some gruelling training in order to complete the challenge and generate as much money as possible for a brilliant charity."

Brain tumours kill more children and adults under the age of 40 than any other cancer, yet just one per cent of the national spend on cancer research has been allocated to this devastating disease since records began in 2002.

Seeing Scotland play for the first time since his father passed will not be easy for Alex, but the presence of his own son at the third match will make things very special.

"My dad took me to Celtic Park for the qualifiers for France '98 when Hampden was being redeveloped at the time,"Alex recalled. "That was 1997 and I was about 13 at the time, I remember us watching us play Latvia and Austria.

"This was all despite my dad being an Englishman! He is from just north of Newcastle so he is a Geordie but he has always followed Scotland.

"He lived in Scotland a lot longer than he did in England because he moved up in his 20s - my mum is Scottish and lured him north of the border.

"His last game was Scotland v England in September and he was rooting for the home team.

"I’ve been to dozens of Scotland games with him over the years and hundred of Elgin City games, home and away. A fair sprinkling of Newcastle games as well - it was good times, really good times.

"It’s still a very strange feeling going to games without him."

Alan worked in the engineering department at Moray College’s Linkwood annexe in Elgin during his time living in Moray, before he also relocated to Edinburgh when he retired.

"He really missed Speyside, as we all did and still do but he adapted well and loved life down here," Alex said.

"He played football with us, I played five-a-sides twice a week and he was still going, aged 71 still playing with me and my mates who were in their 30s or 40s. He was quite a specimen!

"It's like my own boy Drew is taking my dad's place, really. We’ve been to Hampden once together, the Norway game at the end of the campaign. He absolutely loved it and for every bit of sadness that I feel with my dad not being there, it’s nice that he will slide in just to take his place.

"I promised I would take him to Stuttgart for the final group game.

"I was keen to do all these things and raise the money but also give my wee lad an experience.

"You never know when Scotland are going to qualify again!"

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