'Chelsea's care has meant the world to me'

13 Aug 2020
Vernon, Chelsea, WAOT

Walking footballer Vernon explains how the Chelsea Foundation has offered him support and comfort during the coronavirus pandemic

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When the coronavirus pandemic brought about the suspension of walking football sessions run by the Chelsea Foundation, it did not stop Chelsea's charitable arm from continuing to support the participants of the programme.

Some 50 adults maintain their physical health on a weekly basis through walking football at the club's Cobham training ground, while sustaining their mental health through the chance to meet and socialise.

Vernon Ray had been one of those regulars but the support of the Foundation became even more invaluable for him during the heights of the pandemic. 

"I managed to contract the virus just before the lockdown," says Vernon, adding he got it after a walking football trip to Portugal. 

"Giving your time is the greatest commodity one can offer. Chelsea have done this in abundance."

Vernon Ray, Chelsea Foundation walking football participant

"It affected around 20 out of the 30 that went along, with five of us getting it pretty badly.

"As a family we had to go into 14 days of isolation and I had to spend most of that in bed."

But the ties that the Foundation had built with Vernon through walking football over the past four years meant they remained in touch.

"Our coach Mark Blythe was great during this period," says Vernon, a season-ticket holder at Stamford Bridge for over 30 years. "He kept in regular contact, making sure we had all we needed and always offering to help."

Instead of the walking football sessions denied by the lockdown, the Foundation has stayed connected with its participants through regular Zoom meetings.

The calls involve anything from golf lessons to quizzes, while the Foundation has arranged for legendary Chelsea players such as Gary Chivers and Pat Nevin to drop in and give the participants cheer.

"It has been such a lift," adds Vernon. "My highlight was chatting with Pat, a big favourite of mine.

Chelsea Walking Football team
Vernon (back row, second from right), Mark Blythe (front row, far right) and the Chelsea team during a walking football tournament in Belgium last year

"Gary was also superb, not only engaging but at times he felt like an old friend and nothing seemed too much bother for him."

The Zoom sessions have meant that the group are still regularly in touch and were less at risk of isolation during the lockdown.

"It really did give me and many others something to look forward to," Vernon says.

"Giving your time is the greatest commodity one can offer. Chelsea have done this in abundance with ex-players, coaches, staff, etc. and to me that speaks volumes.

"The caring and thoughtfulness of all involved has meant the world to me."

That thoughtfulness of the Foundation towards him has been replicated by Vernon to others. During recent weeks he has helped raise over £3,500 for Kingston Hospital by running a weekly music night, streamed live online.

"The feedback I got was it was a lifeline to many and something many people looked forward to in the darkest of times," Vernon says.

Find out more about Chelsea's walking football
More lockdown stories

See: Coronavirus, clubs and community

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