Burnley fan who ran to every Premier League away game this season seeks new challenge

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Why is this football fan RUNNING to every away game?

Three thousand and ninety miles covered, 5.6 million steps taken and 15 pairs of trainers worn out.

Little more than 48 hours have passed since Burnley fan Scott Cunliffe completed his challenge of running to all 19 of their away league matches this season, yet he already has an idea for his next challenge...

Running to the Qatar World Cup in 2022.

"England have got to get there first, though," he says.

For his charity, RunAway Challenge, Cunliffe has run for 735 hours across 100 days, covering the distance of 118 marathons, setting off each time from Burnley's Turf Moor ground.

He completed the feat on Friday, arriving at Goodison Park for the Clarets' 2-0 defeat by Everton. He admits to having a tear in his eye as he received a standing ovation at half-time, but it wasn't the 48-mile route that gave him jelly legs - rather, being invited into the Burnley dressing room by manager Sean Dyche.

"I think my legs were more wobbly going into the dressing room than they were running the last few miles," Cunliffe, 45, tells BBC Sport.

"It was amazing, a really nice gesture. It was heartfelt from everyone in there, it was really genuine. I was very touched."

Now that it's over, Cunliffe can view his achievement through rose-tinted glasses. He's raised more than £24,000 for charity, boosted his confidence and strengthened both physically and mentally.

But he's also had to face some of his biggest phobias head on, and deal with the mental peaks and troughs he's faced when pounding out mile after mile.

"I'm feeling relieved, from both a physical and mental perspective, that I actually did it," he says.

"I'm very proud of the achievement, and excited to see how people's lives change with the money that is coming in. I'm excited to see the fruits of my labour come through."

'I'd be fretting' - avoiding motorway bridges

Cunliffe decided to combine his love of following Burnley with a passion for running ultra marathons when he returned to England in 2018 after two decades working for charities in South East Asia.

While in Indonesia and East Timor, he witnessed violent conflicts and poverty-stricken environments that led to him developing post-traumatic stress disorder and depression.

Running proved his salvation, but on this challenge it forced him to confront his biggest phobia - motorway bridges.

"It's very minute distance-wise - the biggest thing I was thinking about on a 270-mile run to Bournemouth was the 50m over-the-motorway bridge," he says. "I would be fretting every day I had to go over one.

"Even on my run to Liverpool, I went over a motorway bridge and I grabbed on to the guy who was running with me as we went over it.

"It's a feeling of floating off when I go over these bridges and it's really noisy and a long drop down. I've had quite a few moments with that.

"Sometimes I tried to avoid going over the motorway and tried to go under it, sometimes I'd have to go a mile out of the way just to find the underpass."

At times, Cunliffe wished the season away. He wanted the challenge to be done and dusted. But giving up?

"I never felt like quitting, that was never a question," he says.

Scott Cunliffe
Scott Cunliffe kept to a minimum what he carried during his long-distance trips

'I haven't had any panic attacks' - helping himself and others

So many will reap the benefits of Cunliffe's achievement. The money he has raised will go to Premier League clubs' charities, such as Burnley FC in the Community, that offer innovative activities to improve the mental and physical health of disadvantaged people.

But he has also benefited himself. The mental challenge that lay before him at the start was far greater than the physical challenge, but he has defied it from every angle.

"At the start of the challenge, I was probably the best I had been for a while and I have maintained that," he says.

"I haven't had any panic attacks throughout the whole season and I've been feeling really good.

"I've been off medication for a good year-and-a-half now. If anything, I've got better and a lot of that is through the love I've received from people and feeling the support from fans across the country."

Remarkably, Cunliffe remained largely injury-free throughout all 19 runs, and has been boosted by all that comes with his astounding feat.

"I'm definitely more confident and stronger, both physically and mentally," he says. "I'm probably a slower runner than I was before, though.

"Britain is a good place; there are so many good people out there. Especially at a time when there is a lot of division in the country, there is a lot of good out there."

'I want to celebrate England in Qatar' - taking his challenge global

Old habits die hard. Cunliffe is likely to travel to Burnley's away games by any other form of transport than his own two feet next season but he says he may run to "one or two".

He's got a new challenge he "wants to have a crack at" in three years' time, running the approximate 4,350 miles to Qatar, where the next World Cup will be held.

"It's been amazing to see the football fans warming to running, and hopefully runners will warm to football," he says. "So why not continue that?"

"I don't want to do something immediately, but this gives enough time as it will take a lot of planning. There's a lot of security and logistical planning we'd need to do to make sure it was viable, with going through the Middle East and the desert.

"After the last World Cup, it was such a galvanising thing for England, so it would be great to celebrate them at the next World Cup."

As for Burnley, Cunliffe admits it's been an "up and down season". Currently 15th in the table, their Premier League status is assured for next term but just like their star fan, they have shown great "resilience".

"It's been an amazing show of resilience to come back from not having a good start to actually being one of the better teams in the last part of the season," he says.

"Pride has been restored in the team; we haven't been everyone's favourite team with the style our football is played but we are an amazing club.

"Legs, hearts and minds, that's what it's all about and that's what I have gained from it."

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