Football fan Hugh Thompson is heading for next summer’s World Cup finals in Brazil – and he’s giving himself plenty of time to get there by setting off this weekend.
But his trip to the 2014 tournament in samba-land is unlike that of the vast majority of supporters – as it involves an epic 25,000km journey which will take him almost a year to complete.
Hugh, who comes from Wark in west Northumberland, is preparing for a charity bike ride from London to Rio, which will see him pedal through 25 different countries and across five continents.
The keen Newcastle United and England supporter will take in Europe, Africa, Asia, Australia and South America, on a route which will see him cycling in the shadow of Mount Kilimanjaro, along the banks of the River Ganges and across the salt flats of Bolivia. He also hopes to play a game of football in each of the 25 countries he travels through.
His target is to raise £20,000 for the UK-based charity TackleAfrica, which delivers HIV education through football coaching to young Africans.
Hugh, 29, whose parents Jamie and Mandy have a farm near Wark, has given up his London-based job with the charity Street League to take on the Ride2Rio challenge.
He will set off on his solo ride from London on Saturday, and plans to arrive in Rio just in time for the World Cup finals kick-off in June next year.
Parts of the marathon trip will be done by plane and boat – when it is impossible for him to cycle – and he will sleep in a tent, or couch-surf if he can pick up accommodation for the night.
Hugh, who recently spent 10 months coaching youngsters at the New York Red Bulls professional football club, was inspired to take on the challenge after volunteering for TackleAfrica in Uganda in the lead-up to the 2010 World Cup finals.
During his ride he will visit some of the charity’s projects in East Africa, and help deliver HIV education through football coaching sessions.
Hugh said: “I’m excited, nervous and terrified in equal parts, because it’s going to be a pretty amazing experience and very tough.
“I’ve always wanted to do some form of long-distance cycle ride. The 2014 World Cup in Brazil just seemed like a great opportunity and this whole concept had a real pull for me. I have a massive passion for development through football.
“When I volunteered for TackleAfrica in Uganda I saw at first hand how football can be used as a platform for positive social change.
“The charity’s work really shows the power of football to change people’s lives.”
Hugh has had to raise about £13,000 to fund his marathon journey, and hopes to be able to take in some of the World Cup matches when he reaches Rio next summer.