FRIENDS who met at a Warwick football club are cycling 400 miles in support of an ex-teammate who has cancer.
Three of Matt Bates’ close mates are riding from Central Ajax Football Club to Ajax Amsterdam Football Club in the Netherlands, after the 26-year-old was diagnosed with a rare and aggressive form of kidney cancer.
The ride – dubbed Ajax To Ajax – will be launched on Easter 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 Whitnash, had successful surgery in October 2014 to remove a tumour from his right kidney as well as 11 lymph nodes.
But six months later the cancer returned and has since spread to his lung, spine and adrenal gland.
He played at Ajax alongside 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.
And 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, with food and refreshments available for supporters attending, before the trio set off on the ride.
En-route they will stop off at Wembley to watch England take on the Netherlands in a Euro 2016 warm-up match, before getting the Eurotunnel to France and jumping back into the saddle to Amsterdam, where they will watch 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 said: “”We played in the same team for years but all went to different universities so ended up drifting apart a bit.
“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 coincidence not too.
“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, a former pupil at Trinity School in Leamington, started a specialist immunotherapy treatment in Manchester late last year. 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.
The former Observer journalist 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.
“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 to Ajax to Ajax, visit www.facebook.com/ajaxtoajaxcycle and follow the links.
Visit www.matt-bates.co.uk to read Matt’s blog.