Sheffield University Men’s Football Club have set up a Just Giving page to help Tony Foulds, 84, who as a schoolboy witnessed the crash that brought down the Second World War bomber and has cared for the memorial for years.
The 1944km goal represents the year the Mi Amigo airmen crashed in the city’s Endcliffe Park - saving children and families playing in the park at the time. The plane had been damaged by shelling and was flying low searching for a place to make an emergency landing when the decision was made to crash into woods to avoid those in the park, killing all 10 airmen on board.
Mr Foulds’ efforts drew national attention last year, after BBC Breakfast presenter Dan Walker met him by chance as he tended to the memorial. Together they arranged a memorial for the 75th anniversary of the crash last February.
The memorial had numerous pieces of flags, messages and framed photos stolen on Tuesday morning.
All the pieces stolen from the memorial were later found discarded in a nearby bin in Endcliffe Park by Paula Muzyczka who cleaned and refurbished them before returning them to the site.
The vandalism was dubbed mindless destruction by “undisciplined; disrespectful and disgusting hooligans” by the Sheffield District and Joint Council of Ex-Service Associations.
The football team’s charity secretary Fraser Harding, a second year journalism student, said: “We were disappointed to hear about the mindless theft, but even more gutted by how upset Tony was.
“We use the park for club runs and fitness sessions and can see the selfless effort Tony puts into maintaining the memorial.
“We decided to do something for Tony to show him that plenty of people appreciate him. It was great to see him get acknowledgement last year for all his hard work and even more so, because he never looked for any.
Mr Harding, 20, added: “I think it is important for the memorial to be maintained for years to come. Tony has done an incredible job to upkeep it and dedicated plenty of time. Hopefully, by raising some money, we can do our little bit to help him to continue his great work.”
Currently, 30 members of the team are set to run or cycle to hit the goal but more are expected to take part.
Julie Forrest, 57, and Martine Welsh, 59, who both run the Facebook page ‘Tony Foulds and Mi Amigo’ said: “To see that smile back on Tony’s face is fantastic as he really was devastated and disheartened.
“The love and support from people all around the world have meant everything to him. The team at Sheffield Uni have stunned us with the gesture.”
The money raised by Mr Harding and the team will be used to buy new flowering plants memorial this summer.