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Health

Soccer at a Stroll

Given up ‘the beautiful game’ in your twenties, thirties or forties? Think again. David Hughes reports on walking football

Funnily enough, it was a TV ad to promote sitting in front of a computer that motivated thousands of 50-plus British men (and women) to get off the sofa and on to playing fields and sports centres.

Back in 2014, fifty-something sports development officer Steve Rich approached Barclays Bank for advice about how to promote his walking football team on Facebook. Barclays’ Digital Eagles service helps older people, in particular, to get the most out of the internet, including online banking. The bank seized the promotional opportunity, arranging a jaw-dropping experience for Steve to play an all-star walking football match with retired legends of the game including Sir Geoff Hurst and Alan Shearer, all duly filmed and broadcast on Sky TV. With more than five million viewers on Sky and YouTube, the ad, together with a follow-up, no doubt assisted the Digital Eagles service – but it was also a huge boost for walking football.

All over the UK, thousands of former footballers in their fifties, sixties – and older – ditched golf clubs and hauled their boots out of the attic. Steve Rich’s Walking Football United directory now lists more than 600 clubs, with more affiliated to the Football Association.

“People are losing weight, getting active… and they’ve said how much their life improves just from going to walking football”

Sports development officer Steve Rich

Walking football has been found Health beneficial for dementia and mental health problems, and is fast becoming a staple offering at sports centres all over the country. Nor is there the traditional risk of injury.

Forget about bone-crunching tackles, and, for that matter, running. Walking football does what it says on the tin. “One foot must remain on the ground at all times, during the course of a stride,” says Steve.

Walking speeds vary, of course, and different teams and leagues for over-fifties and over-sixties cater for that, but the skills element is still very much there.

“It’s pass and movement,” explains Steve. “You don’t need to tackle people; all the better teams, and the current champions, just pass the ball around. It’s almost just a one or two-touch.”

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