By Joe Pagnelli
A dad and his poorly lad are shooting for a new world record by stitching the ‘longest ever’ football scarf which is a whopping 1.5 miles end to end – the length of 20 pitches.
The football-mad family of Alfie Lund, 10, have dedicated four years to collecting and sewing together 1,700 football scarves to create their seemingly never-ending neck warmer.
Wanting to raise funds for their brave boy, who suffers from a rare genetic condition that means he cannot walk or talk, Alfie’s family took on the mammoth task.
Alfie’s dad Mark Lund, 48, and brother Cameron Lund, 15, got the fundraising ball rolling by auctioning off their beloved collection of football paraphernalia in September 2014.
Upon posting a photo of Alfie, who was diagnosed with MECP2 Duplication Syndrome in 2012, surrounded by all the footie gear on social media, the family were inundated by people pledging kits, scarves and shirts to them.
When the gifts never seemed to stop coming, Mark came up with the idea of stitching all the scarves together to raise awareness of Alfie’s condition – but believes they may have also set a new Guinness world record.
Machine operator Mark, from Burscough, Lancashire, said: “Within 24 hours we had people pledging shirts and scarves from across the country.
“Before you knew it the postman was back and forth twice a day. We had everything from non-league clubs to Premier League club gear.
“We got to know the postmen pretty well because they would come to our doorstop so often – sometimes even three times in the same day.
“We received so many scarves and we started taking them along to matches for people to hold up around the pitch. Then we decided it would be fun to start stitching them all together.
“For us the scarves have become a reminder of everything we’ve achieved in this journey with Alfie. Everything we’ve been through as a family, and all the support we’ve received.
“You see some of the teams and it paints a picture of all the places around the world where Alfie’s story has been, and how many people it has touched.
“We were receiving boxes after boxes of football gear from across the country, and we even had a lad from Germany called Marius who came all the way and he’d leave hundreds of items at a time.
“We’ve met people and been to places I never thought existed after being invited to games by clubs across the country.
“I think back at that first notification on Facebook from our first post and how exciting that was, and what we’ve achieved since and it’s breath-taking.
“The finished scarf is so long it would take a decent runner ten minutes to run from start to finish if you laid it all out.
“This project has been one of the best decisions we’ve ever made as a family.
“This record and these scarves represent the memories we’ve made up until now and all the ones we’ll continue to make.
“We know the reality of the situation, and it’s wonderful to see Alfie grow in confidence, but we know the funding may eventually help with funeral costs.
“We look at these scarves and I don’t see how this journey can end. Alfie’s story is one that can keep on going and when I see all of the scarves you realise what we’ve achieved together.
“It was an overwhelming feeling to see them all laid out for the first time.”
The official record as set out by Guinness for the longest multiple football scarf requires a minimum of 1,100 scarves.
The Lund family’s valiant attempt will be checked officially at the end of the football season in the summer of 2019.
Alfie, who also has complex learning difficulties due to his condition, already holds two other Guinness World Records.
The courageous lad was invited to be a referee for the longest five-a-side game which was held in Wirral, Merseyside, in 2015.
And Alfie won the record for the world’s biggest bug hotel in 2017 – so the little champion is going for a hat-trick with his scarf.
After winning the record, Mark and his wife Rachel Lund, 39, intend to sell the scarves to collectors to raise funds for the charity MECP2 UK.
Mark first started stitching together scarves to take them to eight non-league matches to be held up around the pitch but the project kept getting bigger and bigger.
Mark, who is a season ticket holder at Wigan Athletic, said: “We weren’t counting our scarves at the beginning, we’d just attach them together.
“I spent a week trying to figure out how to surround the pitch but I couldn’t work it out so I just kept attaching more and more.
“When I did a dummy run, I had all these scarves in bin bags and the council must have thought I was fly tipping.
“We had about 100 people turn up and we surrounded the entire pitch with our scarves.
“When we posted that picture online, we had the plan to do eight non-league teams but then other clubs got involved and we ended up going to 28 games.
“We went from our local park to Ewood Park. And in just the one season, we actually went through every league level in English football.”
Alfie, who is also a season ticket holder at Wigan Athletic, has been to 130 games so far and brought the team out when they played against Nottingham Forest on August 18.
The MECP2 sufferer was only the seventh boy to be diagnosed with the disorder in the UK after it was discovered in 2005.
In December 2014 Alfie began suffering from severe and sudden seizures – sometimes up to twenty a day.
His worsening condition threatened to cut Alfie’s footie adventures short but after a brief hiatus the determined fan returned to the stands in March 2015.
Alfie’s first four years of life were a source of wearing frustration for parents Mark and pharmacy technician Rachel.
The parents of two watched in despair as their youngest struggled progressively but they failed to come away with any answers despite hundreds of doctor’s appointments.
Since Alfie’s diagnosis, the Lund family have been passionately involved with MECP2 UK – where Rachel is a trustee – and have committed themselves to improving the lives of children and families that are going through the same struggles.
Mark said: “The first few years were particularly difficult for us as a family. We knew there was something wrong very early on but didn’t know what it was.
“Alfie was a bit behind others in his class and we were told he would catch up eventually.
“It was tough because we’d already had Cameron so we knew that Alfie wasn’t going to have the same life and same opportunities as him.
“Going to appointments but coming away without any answers was an impossible feeling for us. That was the toughest point.
“For four years from Alfie’s birth we didn’t know what was going on. We were completely in the dark but all we knew was that our little boy had something wrong with him.
“I still remember when we found out what Alfie had and we’d never even heard of this condition. It was a massive blow for us when they told us. It’s nothing you’d wish for, any parent.
“We knew Alfie would need special care his whole life but we just want him to have as great of a life as he can. We don’t want to ever have to restrict what he does.
“Alfie is like any other kid, he loves music, he loves the Red Hot Chilli Peppers and the Stone Roses.
“People see him in a wheelchair but he likes to dance, you’ll see him shuffling about when he likes a tune.
“It is a struggle for us, every single day, it’s completely unpredictable.
“But this is something we have to overcome as a family and now we feel the responsibility to also help others.
“Unfortunately, some of the kids with Alfie’s disorder have passed away and the money we raise goes to helping the families who are sharing this journey and to making lives better for kids with Alfie’s condition.
“I’d like to think that our videos and updates help others who are going through the same things. To be able to take so many negatives and turn them into positives is a great feeling.
“Even if he can’t walk, it’s little things like seeing how happy he is on the Trike or when he knows I’m bringing him to a game – life is about moments like that.”
FACT BOX: WHAT IS MECP2 DUPLICATION SYNDROME?
• MECP2 duplication syndrome occurs when there is an extra copy (duplication) of genetic material that includes the MECP2 gene.
• MECP2 duplication syndrome is inherited in an X-linked manner. A condition is considered X-linked if the genetic change that causes the condition is located on the X chromosome, one of the two sex chromosomes (the Y chromosome is the other sex chromosome).
• In males (who have only one X chromosome), a duplication of the MECP2 gene in each cell is sufficient to cause the condition.
• Signs and symptoms of MECP2 duplication syndrome may include:
• Hypotonia (low muscle tone), which is usually apparent in infancy.
• Delayed development of milestones.
• Moderate to severe intellectual disability.
• Inability to talk, or limited speech ability that may be lost with age.
• Needing assistance to walk or inability to walk.
• Progressive spasticity during childhood, which is generally worse in the legs. This may lead to the development of mild contractures.
• Recurrent respiratory infections (in about 75% of people). Respiratory infections can be life-threatening and are a major cause of death.
• Seizures (in about 50%).
• Feeding difficulties which may require a feeding tube.
• Distinctive head or facial features, such as brachycephaly (abnormally flat back of the head), midface hypoplasia (underdevelopment of the middle of the face), large ears, deep-set eyes, prominent chin, and a depressed nasal bridge.
• Other signs and symptoms may include trouble swallowing, gastroesophageal reflux, failure to thrive, excessive drooling, autistic features, and bowel or bladder problems.
• The long-term outlook (prognosis) for people with MECP2 duplication syndrome varies. Based on the few documented cases in the medical literature, approximately half of affected people succumb before age 25 years. This shortened life expectancy is largely due to immune system dysfunction and an increased risk for recurrent infections.