How Silver Travellers can continue to play the beautiful game
Sir Stanley Matthews, wizard winger for Stoke, Blackpool and England, famously played top flight football until 1965, when he was 50 years old. And in more recent times, Ryan Giggs finally hung up his Manchester United boots at the ripe old age of 40.
But for those of us neither as talented nor as fit as these footballing legends, there is now a fun alternative way to carry on playing the beautiful game well beyond even those milestones.
Walking Football has been around for a while but its popularity has gained momentum in recent years. And why wouldn’t it? Aimed at keeping anyone aged over a certain age participating in the sport, with special rules aimed at avoiding injuries and allowing less physically able people to join in, this is a healthy option for both ageing bodies and minds.
Walking football was devised as a competitive sport before 1930, but has really surged in popularity in the last 10 years. It was introduced by the Chesterfield FC Community Trust in 2011 to try and improve the health of older people in the area. And in 2014 the sport reached a wider audience when Barclays used walking football as part of a TV campaign.
There are now thousands of teams, and sessions have been developed all over the UK, with players featuring in specific age categories – over 50s, over 60, and over 70s. The sport has also proved popular with women and is played from ages over 40 years. The Walking Football Association is the governing body and whilst based on association football played by Messrs. Matthews & Giggs, has its own set of rules.
If a player runs anywhere on the pitch they concede a free kick to the other side. This restriction, together with a ban on slide tackles, is aimed both at avoiding injuries and facilitating the playing of the sport by those who are physically disadvantaged. The manner in which the sport is played promotes cardiovascular fitness whilst producing minimal stress on the body. It also helps participants maintain an active lifestyle. The ball is not permitted to exceed head height. The size of the pitch can vary to suit different locations, but the length should be from 20 to 40 yards and the width between 15 and 30 yards.
All in all, an ideal option for football-loving Silver Travellers! And by the way, the WFA’s tag line is Fun, Friendship and Fitness.
Find a walking football club near you by checking out the directory on the WFA website.
An International governing body was established to help promote and coordinate international matches between nations. This body is the International Walking Football Federation, based in Sutton Coldfield, England. They held the very first walking football World Cup at Leyton Orient in 2019, and the 5 Nations Trophy – sponsored by The Alzheimer’s Society – is scheduled to take place in London in 2021. The IWFF Euro Championships are currently scheduled to take place in Mallorca in October 2020, the Mens’ World Championships Cup 2021 will be hosted in the Olympic Stadium, Barcelona, and the Womens’ inaugural World Championships Cup in Santa Ponsa, Majorca, in 2021.
I wish walking football had been more popular a few years ago. My Dad played for Dulwich Hamlet FC in the early 1950s, and was tipped to play for England amateurs. Sadly, he suffered bad knee injuries and was forced to give the game up prematurely. But perhaps he could have restarted the sport he loved so much if walking football had been available to him.
He died in September 2019, and I’m walking the Portuguese Coastal Camino in his memory, and also to raise funds for community initiatives linked with his beloved old football club. One of those will be for 1st XI players to coach young children in schools, but I’m proud that another initiative will be to set up a new walking football team and local tournament.
Silver Travel Advisor kindly published this article recently about Dad and my pilgrimage walk in his memory: Walking the Portuguese Coastal Camino
And here is the fundraising page I’ve set up to enable those initiatives to be available for the local Dulwich community in Dad’s name: A pilgrimage walk in memory of Ralph Morris
He would have been 92 on 22nd August this year. He may not still have been able to play walking football himself, but I’m sure he’ll be looking down and marvelling about how this phenomenon is extending the careers for, erm, more mature players, and even opening up a new route to social fitness for thousands who may never have played in their younger years.