You'll never walk alone - football for the over-40s
It's the beautiful game '“ without all the running.
Walking football is a phenomenon that is spreading around the world.
With more than 800 clubs signed up, the game in the UK is one of our fastest-growing sports.
Invented back in 2011, the game was designed to get some of the older players who retained a love of the original sport back on to the pitch playing, albeit at a slower pace.
The rules of the game pretty much remain the same as its big brother.
Two teams pass the ball to each other with the aim of getting it in the opposition’s net – with the slight variation that no player is allowed to run at any time, whether they have the ball or not.
It’s this one variation that causes the game’s players the most frustration, according to Alan Scott, chairman of Pompey In The Community Walking Football Club.
‘It leads to the most arguments on and off the pitch,’ he explains.
‘I guess it really comes down to the fact that most players played the main game when they were younger and so, as soon as they get back on to the pitch, the instincts just kick in and they start running.
‘It’s in most footballers’ DNA, so you spend a great deal of time trying to restrict that natural instinct and it’s not easy, I’ll tell you that!’
The club, like the sport, has been rapidly growing since it was first set up by independent organisation Pompey In The Community back in June, 2014.
Back then, there was just a handful of players, eager to recreate their goalscoring heyday. Two-and-a-half years later and the club is continuously expanding, with a membership of more than 50.
Players attend two sessions each week at the five-a-side pitches by Roko Health Club in Copnor.
It’s a rapid rise and it mimics the sport’s international surge, with the club even taking part in a tournament in Portugal last summer.
Alan says that while getting back out on the pitch is down to footballing reasons for some, others are looking to the sport to help with fitness and to re-live that camaraderie and ‘banter’ often associated with the sport.
‘I heard about the club after seeing an advert calling potential players to head down to the Charles Dickens Leisure Centre. We played there at first,’ he says.
‘I was one of the original four, but numbers started to pick up quite quickly over the first few months.
‘In those first few games I think we realised that we were really enjoying it.
‘You’d do a session and you were absolutely exhausted as your body simply wasn’t used to it, but very soon, you start thinking ‘‘this is better than just playing the game again, it might really boost my health’’.
‘Once the group had began to build up, the banter then came in and then you get that feeling of camaraderie, of closeness again and the club became a home to us. It’s something that we all look forward to now, especially for those that are retired.’
The club takes on a wide age range with players getting involved in their 40s up until mid-70s.
Steve Bialis, 65, from Milton, adds: ‘It’s just great to be a part of a football club like this.
‘My fitness has got so much better since joining as it really helps make you fitter and healthier once you start.
‘The socialising makes it as well. We organise get-togethers and seeing the same faces each week really brings the feeling of togetherness when you’re out on the pitch, it’s just fantastic.’
He added that stopping himself running on the pitch had become the hardest part of learning how to play the game.
‘Usually a ref blows the whistle when you run, so that can of course get quite frustrating when it’s in your DNA to run.
‘When you miss the ball and it goes flying past, you have to use all your resolve not to chase after it.
‘Of course, you still do sometimes. You can’t really help it!’
The club initially received support from Pompey In The Community to help pay for coaches, equipment, training and facilities. But the club then received a £9,500 grant from the National Lottery Fund.
The organisation continues to provide coaches for the two sessions, which the club pays for, but the aim is to now secure another grant.
Alan explains: ‘We are just looking to get the club as strong as we can and to build a stable future for it.
‘The players we have here absolutely love playing the game and we want to keep this level of enjoyment going.’
There are various other clubs in the area, such as Havant and Waterlooville Walking Football, a club that PINC Walking Football shares a strong relationship with.
There are also clubs in Horndean, Emsworth and Bridgemary, Gosport, with another team starting at Portchester Community School next month.
When seeing the sport up close and personal during a visit to a session with PINC Walking Football, you get a real sense of what Alan’s talking about when he speaks about camaraderie. It’s a real community from the get-go as players are very much friends here and they come to catch up with their pals and kick a ball around.
The feeling is very much inclusive and welcoming. Of course, once they actually get down to playing, I notice very quickly that the ‘no running’ seems a bit of a lost cause. Despite the players taking it in turns to referee, most of them are definitely ‘jogging’.
Steve adds: ‘I think people can sometimes treat the sport a bit like every game’s the FA Cup final, which really shows their passion for it. It’s a sport that really is for everybody and we get players here that have never even watched a game or kicked a ball before. So for those thinking about having a look, please come on down, we’d love to get to know you.’
Alan adds: ‘We love this club and if people want to give it a go then by all means, give it a shot. You never know how much you might enjoy yourself!’
Pompey in the Community Walking Football:
Contact: Alan Scott on 07836 273492.
Where: Roko Health Club, Copnor Road, Copnor.
When: Mondays 11am-12.30pm and Thursdays 11am-12.30pm.
Havant and Waterlooville Walking Football:
Contact: Ross Betteridge on (023) 9278 7822 or [email protected]
Where: Havant and Waterlooville Football Club, Martin Road, Havant.
When: Mondays 11am-12.30pm and Thursdays 11am-12.30pm.
Emsworth & Hayling Walking Football Club
Contact: Colin Thomas on 07968 872136 or [email protected]
Where: Park Community School, Middle Park Way, Havant.
When: Mondays 4.30pm to 5.30pm and Thursdays 5.30pm to 6.30pm.
Horndean Walking Football
Contact: Caroline Whiffin on (023) 9259 4325 or [email protected]
Where: Horndean Technology College, Barton Cross, Horndean.
When: Saturdays 1pm to 2pm.
Bridgemary Walking Football Club
Contact: Garath Plow on 07468 614678 or 01329 319966 or [email protected]
Portchester Community School Walking Football (starts Saturday, February 4)
Contact: (023) 9232 1787 or [email protected] centre.co.uk.
Where: Portchester Community School, White Hart Lane, Portchester.
When: Saturdays 9-10am.