A FORMER footballer has set himself a new goal – of climbing the world’s highest free-standing mountain.

Ex-Hexham FC midfielder Stuart Brown and his partner Samantha Curtis are preparing to set off on a gruelling, high-altitude trek later this month.

The aim of their nine-day mission is to reach the top of Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania, which stands at almost 6,000m above sea level.

The couple are taking on the challenge in aid of the North-East charity Smile for Life, which supports disabled and disadvantaged children, and have already raised about £6,500.

Stuart (38), who played football at semi-professional level in the Northern League for Prudhoe Town, and also enjoyed spells at Ryton and West Allotment, found out about the charity through his day job as a children’s occupational therapist.

He explained: “Some children and their families have difficulties accessing vital equipment and services.

“Smile for Life provides specialist equipment, therapeutic activities and short breaks. In my job, I see first hand the great work of this charity.

“They make a big difference to children’s lives and we want to support that work by taking on this trek.”

Stuart and Samantha will take the Machame route, which is one of seven main routes used to climb Kilimanjaro.

The couple’s year-long training programme has included climbs at Scafell Pike and Helvellyn in the Lake District earlier this year.

But Stuart admitted: “We will be going much higher than this, so we have been trying to do some high intensity bursts to replicate what it will be like.

“It has been a varied training programme, and it has taken a lot of planning and a lot of work to get to this stage.

“It’s going to be a huge test, not just physically, but also psychologically as we look to keep ourselves going for about 15-miles per day, despite the high altitude and lack of oxygen.

“The Machame route has a 65 per cent success rate, so it can be done. We are looking forward to it and are absolutely determined to get to the top.”

Although he no longer plays the 11-a-side game, Stuart occasionally plays six-a-side football. He was also part of the Wark team which finished runners-up in the Northern Alliance League in the 2009/10 season, and won the Northumberland Senior Cup with Hexham Ex-Service in 2002.

To contribute visit: https://uk.virginmoneygiving.com/StuartandSam45