Autism campaigner stops off in Sunderland on 1,000-mile tour of football grounds

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A DETERMINED autism campaigner visited the Stadium of Light as part of his race against the clock to visit every Premier League football stadium.

Maz Ataie, an ambassador for the National Autistic Society (Nas), was inspired to embark on his 1,000-mile mission to raise awareness of the lifelong developmental disability by his eight-year-old son Jake, who has Aspergers syndrome.

It also highlighted the problems youngsters with the condition face in getting involved in grassroots football.

Joined by friends Ed Jones, 34, Dave Leeks, 34, and Chris Patson, 38, the 40-year-old kicked off his sporting challenge at Loftus Road, home of QPR.

After visiting three other London clubs, the team headed over to Swansea before racing off to the Midlands.

They reached the North East in the evening, ending the first day of the tour with a quick stop at the home of Sunderland AFC and then the Sports Direct Arena, in Newcastle.

They then visited clubs in the North West, completing their journey at Tottenham Hotspur’s White Hart Lane in just 36 hours.

Throughout the tour, which took place on public and private transport, clubs donated items that Maz will auction off, including a Manchester United shirt signed by Wayne Rooney and a football signed by the Chelsea team.

Maz and his friends smashed their original target by three hours.

Maz, from Watford, Hertfordshire, said: “So many children love to play and watch football.

“Unfortunately, kids with autism and other disabilities often don’t have the chance to get involved as teams find meeting their needs a challenge.

“The Premier League tour was all about raising awareness and encouraging football clubs to offer coaching at a grassroots level, so that all children are able to experience the pleasure and camaraderie that the beautiful game can bring.

“We received fantastic support from the clubs and managed to bag some brilliant goodies along the way.

“Hopefully, we’ll be able to auction them off and raise loads of money for Nas.”

Rebecca Bohling, head of supporter fund-raising at Nas, said the fund-raiser was a massive success.

“The epic race against the clock is a sensational achievement,” she said.

“We’re so grateful for their efforts which have not only raised vital funds to support the work we do, but also shined a light on the need to support thousands of children with autism.”

To donate to Maz’s Premier League Challenge, visit http://www.justgiving.com/Maz-Ataie40.

Twitter: @SunderlandEcho