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At 45, my knees wouldn’t carry me up and down a football field anymore.
I’d played since I was about five, in the streets in the UK, in the playground at every break, after school and during holidays.
I played for the school team, in suburban competitions when I came to Australia, for the work team, in inter-suburban district football, over 35s, mixed-gender social games in a park – even coached a women’s team back in the ’80s.
Then came the knee issue. I swapped playing for watching.
Now, at 63, my football life has been resurrected and I play at the weekend – sometimes for four hours.
And what brought about the change? Walking football.
Walking football began in the UK a few years ago and it has become a boom sport. Old, flabby and unfit guys kick a ball around and regain that sense of balance, rekindle the old skills, get the heart rate up, and just have a great time playing the game they love. There have even been internationals, and there are plans for a World Cup.
It took a while to come to Australia, but it is here, and it is growing. There are groups in all major cities, but, as yet, there is no coordinating body and, it will come as no surprise to many, not a lot of encouragement from the powers that be, so it is all organised from the grassroots.
As I live in Brisbane, I can really only tell you about what is happening here, but I’m sure a quick search will find you something about what’s happening in other cities and states.
Walking football has a few rules that are reminiscent of futsal. Here in Brisbane, we play indoors, usually five or six per side, with a futsal ball. There is a ‘no contact’ rule, obviously there are no slide tackles, and it’s a free kick if the ball goes above shoulder height.
There are a few other rules that are all designed to promote the flow of the game, while protecting aging bones from harm and encouraging participation – by male, female, novice and veteran=s alike.
“I’m only here to cut the oranges at halftime,” Karen joked. “I haven’t played soccer before.”
Ten minutes later she was on the indoor court, scoring goals.
Debra came along to a session with no experience, but later posted: “Had so much fun today trying out walking football. It got the heart rate up that’s for sure. We were made very welcome and no pressure was put on us to be Tim Cahill. Never played football before so with the easy rules and supportive players made it a fun experience. Can’t wait to get back for another game. Highly recommended.”
Mike, at 78, thought he’d never be playing football again – now he turns up for sessions at North Lakes, Brisbane, and enjoys a good walk-out. He’s one of the many that have gone from ‘never play again’ to ‘never walk alone’.
Walking football has something for everybody, though it is mainly for over 50s. I would, though, recommend it to coaches to help hone passing skills. One of the first things that any long-time player of the game realises is that it is very important to pass the ball to feet, and positional sense is a necessary skill to master, as is quick control and vision about where to pass the ball next, so you need to have that whole-of-field awareness.
However, as I say, it is mainly a seniors’ game.
The benefits of an active life are well known and have been covered by all and sundry in all forms of media, so it goes without saying that walking football has a multitude of health benefits for those who have retired from the big field, not least being a chance to release the 30-year-old that hides away in our mental picture we have of ourselves.
By far, the thing that most people mention as being the best thing about the sport is the enjoyment of playing again – the camaraderie of the field, and the surprise at how demanding it can be.
The sport is in its infancy in Australia. At this stage, it is all about being non-competitive and all-inclusive. It is about encouraging people back to the game, to get older people to be active. There are walking football groups popping up all over the place. Here in Brisbane we have two centres – North Lakes and Coorparoo. We play two hours at the weekend and have a Festival of Walking Football coming up at QUT Stadium, Kelvin Grove on October 7, and are starting a walkshop at Newmarket soon. A new group is operating out of the Sunshine Coast.
For now, we just want to have a good time, keep fit (or fitter than we were), make some new friends, and play football again.