First Touch

Darren Moore – Walking The Great Wall Of China

Back in May, we told you about Darren Moore, West Brom’s club captain, and his preparation for walking the Great Wall of China in the close season in aid of charity. Now he’s back, and this is how he got on…

Darren Moore at the chinese wall

Dave Bowler author logoBy Dave Bowler

Darren Moore has been around football a long time now. We’ve all seen him using his hefty frame to bounce a centre forward to the floor or to tower over a midfielder, or to glower at a referee but away from the stress of competition, you’ve got yourself a completely different bloke, although he’s still not one you’d fancy arguing with.

Separate him from his profession and you’ve got the gentlest of those proverbial gentle giants, though he’s still fiercely competitive, for, even in his charity work, he’s forever measuring himself against existing yardsticks or ambitious targets that he has in mind.

Faith & Football

And that’s what’s been exercising Darren’s mind over recent months for, while most Albion fans were still shambling around in an alcoholic haze a week after retaining Premiership status, Mooro was on the other side of the world, clambering up and down the Great Wall of China in an effort to raise money for the charity Faith & Football.

From walking in China, Darren hopes to start putting bricks into different kinds of walls, in new schools beyond this country, and by putting down the building blocks that will give kids here a better start in life.

“The charity which does a lot of good work in this country, in Africa and in India, to try and help children who’ve had a difficult start in life. We use football to touch people in this country because everybody can relate to the game.

“The emphasis is to set up minor leagues for kids in local areas in Birmingham and in Portsmouth, and then hopefully next year we can do something up north as well. It gives the children a chance to play football, to get together, respect each other. We all live in the community so we should be good to each other.”

Success In Local Communities

“We’ve had a lot of success in local communities, bringing schools, churches, police all together. And We’ve mobilised supporters, this football club has been very helpful when we’ve needed it, and we’re very grateful to the players, the administration staff, the directors, the community programme and the supporters and the supporters’ club for all the help they’ve given us and for the money they’ve helped raise.

“We want people to understand our vision of what we’re trying to do and to buy into it. I’ve been very lucky in my life and it’s important to me that I can help out people less fortunate than me, to give them a head start, or shed some light on their lives. We’ve had wonderful results with kids from different schools becoming friends, kids talking to policemen on the streets after they’ve met at the football games, teachers sharing ideas from one school to the next, parents getting friendly, it’s been very positive.

“People who live side by side but who never even acknowledged one another are now friends because of their involvement with the football. Again, a lot of people in the communities have been very good to us, from The Hawthorns Pub to places like Bramford Primary School and Holyhead School. Businesses have been great as well like Furniture Fittings, Hamilton Trustees, Prestige Transport Solutions, it’s gratifying to have that sort of response.”

Shalom Orphanage

“Overseas, football isn’t such a way into communities, so we want to raise money to help different sorts of projects. In Africa it was to put money towards school fees to give kids an education. In India, we work closely with a Shalom orphanage and we’re trying to build another one to help them home kids who otherwise literally would live on the streets. We want to try to put a teacher in there too, so that’s what we’re trying to raise the money for, by sponsorship on the walk, by bucket collections.

“From the walk so far, we’ve raised about £50,000 and hopefully there’s a lot more to come from the collections we’re doing. I’m so grateful to everybody who has contributed in any way, however big or small, we’re just delighted with the response and we can do so much with the money, we can get some great groundwork done on the projects we’ve got in hand.

“A lot of people have made a huge contribution and I’ve got to mention a few such as Steve Burrows at Progressive Prints, Pete Sunna at Sunna Wines, Mac at Drinks Stop, Binns and Chico at Global Cash & Carry, Denise Griffiths, Ragga and Ginga, because they’ve all done such a lot to help us.”

The China Challenge

To help out with what exactly? With the China Challenge, the walk along the Great Wall that took place at the tail end of May in an effort to pull in the cash. We’ve probably all got our own visions of China and just what it would be like to walk along it. Put those ideas to one side because Mooro is going to tell it like it is.

“Actually climbing the wall was nothing like you expect. I had these preconceptions that when you go the Great Wall of China, we go along in the minibus, we get out on the side of the road, you go up some steps, you’re on the wall and off you go. Far from it. It actually runs along a mountain ledge, and just to get up on to it would take us two or three hours before we’d even started. You had to climb a mountain before you could start your task of walking on the Wall itself.

“So we’d get up at half past five, no later than six, every morning, get ourselves ready and be up and walking by eight o’clock because it’s a long day – two or three hours to get there, then four or five hours on the Wall. We had to get to specific places every day and then come down off the mountain to where we were going to camp. So every day, there was a certain time frame to accomplish a particular distance.”

Tough Conditions

“The conditions were hard because it was between about 27 and 30 degrees in the daytime, very hot, so walking in that is tiring. Then at night, the temperature would drop right down, we were in our tents and pretty cold! By 7.30 it was dark, so we needed to get back into camp and settled before then for safety.

“We’d eat, have a chat round the campfire, then to bed about 10 or 11 so you could get up early again the next day, because you really do expend a lot of energy on those kind of days. Bed was a mat on the floor inside a tent, so it was pretty Spartan.

“It was very demanding physically and mentally, you’re talking about eight or nine hours of walking and climbing every day. But it was such a great experience, the thinks we saw and did, and just being on the Wall itself was inspiring. As you walk along it, you just keep asking yourself how it was that they managed to build this thing that runs over 4,000 miles, and all 2,300 years ago or something.”

Great Experience

“And you’re up there in the mountains and three or four days earlier, I’d been at The Hawthorns with 28,000 chuffed to bits that we’d  stayed in the Premiership. So that was one of my biggest achievements in football, you draw a line under that, and then being on the Great Wall was one of my biggest achievements in life. Two phenomenal experiences inside a week.”

For all its tensions, the Pompey game was a bit of a walk in the park compared with taking on the only man built structure visible from space – though presumably any astronauts orbiting the earth could also probably see the massive Mooro with the naked eye as well.

But the privations and the exertions that the trip bought with it were nothing compared with the rewards these walkers enjoyed, particularly as they were allowed to explore a little further off the beaten track, out to some of the more brittle sections of the structure – though you’ve got to question whether it was wise of the Chinese to allow a man who moves like a mobile earthquake when in full flight anywhere near anything so fragile. Still, both Darren and the wall have survived the experience intact.

“I got back and I’m pretty fit anyway, but my legs have got even bigger after all that walking all those steps. I think we covered something like 80,000 steps up on the Wall according to the guys who had pedometers, so I didn’t need to go into pre-season after that! In the five days we covered about 50 miles which doesn’t sound that much but when you think about the terrain, the fact that about 80% of it was uphill, that was pretty fierce.”

Survival Gear

“A couple of days, it was so rough! Because of decay over the years, the surface has broken away in places and so the steps up were something like 18 inches each. It’s not like going upstairs, you have to hike up them. You walk along ledges, you have to pick your way through fallen debris, so it’s a challenge. Those are sections where most people don’t go, its really hard, and then you come across the bits where the tourists go, where you take your pictures.

“There were 15 of us out there and some found the walking easier than others, but I think we did ever so well because it was an arduous task. It’s not just the walk, you’ve got to carry your survival gear in your backpack in case you got stuck up on the Wall overnight for any reason, and then you’re carrying three litres of water to keep you going, so the packs were heavy.

“It started to kick in on the third or fourth day, because your mindset had changed, you knew exactly what you’d got in front of you, the climb to the Wall, walking, resting, walking again, coming off the Wall, wading through the trees and bushes back to camp. The first two days we didn’t know what to expect, so that makes it a bit easier.

Off The Beaten Track

“Ken, our tour guide, was able to take us off the beaten track, through to small villages and that was a joy, places nobody goes. The villagers looked on me and Linvoy like we were giants, I don’t think they’d ever seen anybody our size before!

“They lived in these tiny houses and we went into one, my head was literally touching the ceiling, it was so small, such a basic life, it was so good to see the way they live and meet the people. They welcomed us in, they were very gracious, but I’m sure when I was standing in this tiny room, the lady whose house it was looked at me as if to say, “Who’s put the lights out!?” It was that small, I just filled it!

“They live out on mountainsides really, miles from nowhere, they’re small farmers who just get by, growing their few crops and living off that. It’s very humbling. I’m really pleased that I’ve been able to go on these trips at the end of the season these last few years, it broadens your horizons. When you see the way they live in Goa or in China, and contrast that with the way we live over here, it’s just amazing the difference.

“They have lives that never change, day in, day out. As we get older in this country, we change jobs, we move house, all things change but over there, they are born into the life that they will go on to live from generation to generation. While we were there, we saw other parts of China too. When we flew in, we stayed in Beijing at a hotel which, to be generous, was maybe a three star, just.”

Welcome To China

“The air conditioning was rattling away, the bed was rock hard, the shower alternated between freezing and boiling every five seconds so you’re flinching, and that was welcome to China, oh dear! So we left there and went to do the walk, six days sleeping in the mountains. We came back to Beijing at the end and stayed in the sane hotel and it was like being at the best hotel I’ve ever seen. I was delighted to see it, just to get a shower, hot or cold! On the walk, we’d had a small bowl of water in the morning and one at night to wash in, so just to get a real wash was a joy!

“We went to Tiananmen Square and to the Forbidden City. It was very interesting to see the Square, thinking back to those demonstrations and the man who tried to hold the tank back, then the Forbidden City where the emperors ruled the country from, really incredible things to see. From a sightseeing point of view that was great, but the bug thing is just the sheer size of Beijing.”


“It must be the size of London plus Birmingham plus a part of Manchester rolled into one. And they’re very excited because they’ve got the Olympics coming in 2008. You just can’t believe how many people there are, just masses of them, that was really striking. Mumbai was a bit like that last year, teeming with people, it’s amazing to see how different these people’s lives are compared with us.”

So, having scaled the Great Wall, what’s next for Mooro? A march to the South Pole? A fortnight in the Sahara? Building a new pyramid at Giza? A week on the space shuttle?

“Next summer? Watch this space! There’s nothing planned at present and I did say to myself that I’d take it easy next year and recharge a little, but when next year comes around, who knows?”

Doing The Right Thing

“All I know is that the charity is the same as the football club. You have to move on because otherwise you go backwards. Here, last season was a tremendous year but that’s gone, it’s about going forward. All the positives we had last year, we need to retain them and improve them, set higher standards.

“If everyone connected with West Bromwich Albion can add another 5 or 10% to what they did last year, then surely we can only move forward. We can’t take our eye off the ball. We’ve got to work even harder this year than last. Every player wants to be in this league and we’re not going to give that up if we can avoid it.

“Now we want to compete better than we did last time. The goals must be higher. We must compete with the best and do better against them than we’ve done in the past. Whenever you do well, the pressure increases. But that’s what we want, it shows we’re doing the right thing.”

Doing the right thing? Pretty much sums the man up.

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