“I would say last one over has to do ten push-ups but we’re all too old for that”

Report written by Jess Alexander, Year 2 Sport and Exercise Science student

Age did not deter the men who participated in the England Walking Football Trials at Cirencester Town Football Club on the 20th and 28th January 2018; with ages ranging from 50, to the oldest player at 75 years old. The players travelled from around the UK, from Leicester to Exmouth, in order to be considered for the team. Although most were there for the competitive aspect and possible outcome, many were there to form friendships with others who are equally passionate about the sport as them. In the line-up for the 5-a-side tournaments were men who had different reasons for participating in walking football, whether it be for health or social benefits.

The Walking Football Association (WFA) was launched in December 2016 as the sole National Governing Body for walking football with the aim to promote walking football around the UK, for competition, physical exercise, and recreation amongst the elderly; and also improving their health physically and mentally. It is registered as a “not-for-profit” company, run by WF aficionados. Due to the nature of walking football, running results in penalty action, and therefore making the sport more suitable for the age it is aimed at.

Cirencester College sport students helped to set up and maintain the event on both days, as well as providing funding for the trials. This gave them the opportunity to record and analyse walking football, giving greater comprehension on analysis which would ultimately help them in their courses, and possible future goals. The students also were able to assist Nicola Billis, course leader at Cirencester College, with the sports massage that the players received throughout the days. Many of the students were inspired by the players, how, at their age, they are still getting up and out in order play sport competitively.

Most of the footballers had been playing the sport since it began two years ago, however, one player began playing more recently as a result of a stroke. Eric George started to play in order to aid his recovery and get back out of the house after having a stroke, resulting in the back of his cerebellum dying; once leaving the hospital, he found a lack of medical support, that walking football players then gave him by meeting men his age and ability with the same passion as he has. Other players’ spouses saw the FA advert and signed them up to keep them active and to improve their social wellbeing, whilst others got into walking football from a love of football as a youth, which in recent years they didn’t have, but given the opportunity, were able to begin playing football again. An Exeter City walking footballer got into walking football as he was no longer making the first team, and saw walking football as a chance to carry on playing he is greatly passionate about without being sidelined. Although the players have different reasons for getting into the sport, they all have continued to play it for the same ones; the friendships, the competition and the passion.

Not only does walking football give the players something to enjoy, but also their partners. One lady said that she couldn’t imagine a better way to spend her Sundays than watching her husband play something that he is greatly passionate about; it aids him to get out of a dull routine of work and home life, and allows for him to make new friendships which, as you get older, some do find harder to do. Another wife says that walking football “brings them back to life” as it brings excitement back into their lives but that they are there for the competitive aspect of it as well as the friendship and “banter” aspect too. Walking football also gives the players the opportunity to play sport competitively which many would’ve been missing since a young age.

Walking football in beneficial in many ways to the players; psychologically and physically. It makes exercise more enjoyable for them, and so increases the likelihood of the individual to carry on playing, improving fitness levels. Players are also at a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease and stroke, and decreased blood pressure. It has all-round positive effects on the body, from sugar levels, to bone density. Psychologically, it decreases stress and the endorphins and serotonin lifts each player’s mood. These significant benefits, however, aren’t the main reason for these players to participate in walking football, it is solely due to the opportunity they are given to become involved in something and form friendships; and it isn’t just the players who benefit, as the people who help to set up and run the events and training also form friendships and become part of the sporting community.