Sir Ian Botham yesterday launched Beefy's Great British Walk 2012, the latest of his fundraising challenges, in Glasgow, describing the city as a special place.
Sir Ian, who was nicknamed Beefy during his illustrious cricketing career, will walk about 160 miles in and around cities across Britain over the next 10 days for Leukaemia & Lymphoma Research. (Story continues below...)For the last four miles of his 10-mile walk from Glasgow city centre to Drumpellier Park in Coatbridge the former England cricket captain was joined by hundreds of sponsored walkers.
Among the crowd were "local heroes" five-year-old Ben Magee, who is currently undergoing treatment, and Rebecca Foley, four, who is in remission. She gave Beefy a good-luck card.
Celtic and Partick Thistle football managers Neil Lennon and Jackie McNamara also took part as did Celtic coach Garry Parker.
Sir Ian, who is president of the charity, said: "We always wanted to start in Glasgow because the first walk was 27 years ago and the money raised from that went to the virus centre just down the road here. It's where it all started, the research, and so it is somewhere special and seemed a logical place to start."
The proceeds of Sir Ian's first high-profile charity walk from John O'Groats to Land's End in 1985 went to the virus centre located within the Ian Botham building at Glasgow University.
Today, Sir Ian will be in Newcastle and will stop off at another nine locations before finishing at Ham House, London, on Saturday, April 21.
Throughout the Great British Walk, which will raise money for blood cancer charity, he will be joined by young patients who are either being treated for the disease or are in remission.
Sir Ian's other memorable walks have included a trek across the Himalayas in 1988 which involved using elephants. This is his 14th charity walk. "I'm approaching 57 so it's getting harder to do the walks but hopefully we've got this and maybe one more walk in us," he said.
Around 30,000 people are diagnosed with blood cancer such as leukaemia, lymphoma and myeloma in the UK every year.
During their playing days at Celtic, Lennon and McNamara played alongside current Aston Villa midfielder Stiliyan Petrov who was recently diagnosed with the illness. The pair had a greater commitment to take part in yesterday's event on hearing of Petrov's diagnosis. Lennon said: "I'm delighted to be able to take part in this event which is raising money for such an important and worthy charity.
"Of course, I'm only walking a small part of it. Ian Botham's trekking round Britain and it's an incredible thing he's doing. I know Ian's done so much great work over the years for charity so he deserves all our support. And I would encourage as many people as possible to get involved next week for this great cause."
Sir Ian said: "Stiliyan is an example of how indiscriminate leukaemia is. It doesn't care that you're captain of Aston Villa or played for Celtic or one of the fittest men on the planet. He's now having treatment in London and we hear it's all going well, but he's the one who will find it easiest to deal with. It'll be the family around him who are hit hardest and will be asking questions like: 'Why him?' There is no real answer but we are winning the battle and that's why we keep going."
Since Sir Ian began his fundraising drive for leukaemia, the prognosis for children diagnosed with the blood cancer has dramatically improved.
In 1985, only 20% of children survived the most common form of childhood leukaemia. Now more than 90% survive the disease, according to Leukaemia & Lymphoma Research.
To date, the charity said it has invested £2.4 million in research into blood cancers in Glasgow, including at Yorkhill Children's Hospital.
Sir Ian said he was inspired to raise money after meeting young patients during his playing career.
He said: "I saw children dying. I was having treatment for a broken foot in Taunton and by the time my treatment was finished by about six weeks, four children I had met in the hospital had died from the disease.
"That was my first introduction to it. I'd never heard of it before then and didn't understand it.
"I had it explained to me in layman's terms and then started to do something about it, and now the fundraising is continuing to pay dividends in breakthrough treatments."