Walking football has become increasingly popular. It’s exactly what it sounds like too – your standard game of football where players walk instead of run.
It resembles the five-a-side game more than the 11-a-side game and was invented in 2011 by the Chesterfield FC Community Trust. It wasn’t until a 2014 Barclays TV advert describing the wonders of walking football that the game really captured the public’s attention though.
Older people who play have seen many benefits: lower heart rate and blood pressure, less fat and more muscle, and better mobility. And it’s not just health benefits - Walking football also offers social benefits.
With more than 20 Walking Football Groups now plying their trade in Hertfordshire, we visited the Harvesters CFC Walking Football group to find why the game has become so popular across the county.
The group is co-ordinated by Dave Willacy, a retired school teacher, and meet once every two weeks to play the game. It was originally launched off the back of a St Albans U3A group and failed at first before bursting back to life in late 2014.
The group will soon be celebrating their 50th Walking Football session. Talking about the evolution of the game and the group, Willacy says:
“The 1st session in 2014 on a gravelly tennis court next to a ‘Sure Start’ nursery was a useful exercise; it resurrected skills and turned out to be great fun!
“By the third session, the injured and the unimpressed had deserted the cause, but then the kindest of offers from Harvesters CFC to use their 3G pitch proved to be just the boost we needed. The move enabled us to be the first Walking Football Club to affiliate to the Hertfordshire Football Association.”
The support provided to the Walking Football Group from Harvesters CFC has been valuable in a number of ways. The St Albans based FA Charter Standard Community Club also promote the group to their members.
Colin Bigg joined the group after being persuaded by friends at the club:
“My grandsons play at Harvesters now, and my son manages a team at the club too. About a year ago I heard about the Walking Football Session through the club and have been coming ever since.
“I’m retired and so I wanted to do something rather than sitting in the house - it’s getting out and doing something, it’s being part of this community. I always enjoy coming here. I try to make the effort to keep fit…after all, I’m 72 this year!”
On the day of our visit to the Harvesters facility in central Hertfordshire - a beautiful, clear and bright January morning - over 20 players from all walks of life turned up to the 60 minute session.
Willacy provided a quick run-down a rundown of the usual activities:
“We usually run through a gentle warm up routine, practice deft touches, increase our spatial awareness, miss goals, eat oranges, drink Lavazza coffee afterwards, smile a lot and laugh even more at our John Cleese-like step overs.
“After the inevitable 5-5 finish in the game, we will have penalty shoot-outs again, while the shirts of Accrington, Torquay, Preston NE and Carlisle United are all worn with pride.”
The aim of walking football is to inspire those over 50 to get more exercise and counter social isolation, and now thousands of older men – and women – are now rediscovering the joys of football by playing it at a more leisurely pace.
Roy Slater, another retired veteran of the group, and keen Chesterfield United fan agreed with this sentiment, saying:
“I’ve been coming here for a year now and it’s great to meet with guys of a similar age that want to keep themselves fit. It’s all about meeting people and having fun.”
The only female in the group, and co-incidentally, one of the founding members, Brenda Macpherson (67) was quick to point out how much the group enjoyed getting together to play too:
“I’ve been right here from the beginning, and I wouldn’t keep coming if I didn’t enjoy it.
“I come for the banter. It’s really funny and it keeps you fit. All the lads are good too, they pass the ball to me and we have a laugh. It’s a great fun.”
Willacy happens to agree with both Macpherson & Slater, saying:
“Thanks to the exercise, friendship and community the group provides us all, we’ve now been ‘up and running’ for over 3 years…Well, walking, actually.”