How Norfolk’s walking footballers earned their place on the world stage
PUBLISHED: 09:01 13 November 2019 | UPDATED: 10:40 13 November 2019
A team of walking footballers from Norfolk has capped off an outstanding year by defeating the world champions on their own turf.
Earlier this year, Norwich City Walking Football entered a tournament in Leicester which pitted them against some of the nation's finest talent.
The group of over-60s knew victory would see them represent England at the sport's inaugural world cup and they duly produced the goods, winning all of six matches without conceding a goal to emerge victorious.
At May's world cup, held at Leyton Orient's Brisbane Road, Norwich played eight games and were eventually knocked out by Australia, their only loss of the tournament.
But on November 2 they proved their global credentials, defeating world cup winners Wales 2-1 in a close-fought friendly at Merthyr Tydfil FC.
Gary Cockaday - like many of his teammates - started playing walking football with Norwich-based Soca Seniors in 2014.
Now, having represented his country and conquered the world champions, he looks back on a whirlwind few years with immense pride.
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"It's fair to say I've had a pretty good few years with Norwich City," said Mr Cockaday, who lives in Dereham.
"Hand on hearts did we think we would qualify for the world cup? Probably not, but we know we can beat anyone when we're at our best."
"You have to pinch yourself sometimes. If you'd told me six years ago I would be playing football again and would go on to play for Norwich City - the team I've always supported - I would have laughed at you.
"If you'd told me I would play in a national final at St George's Park and represent England, I probably would have cried."
As Norwich City Walking Football goes from strength to strength, participation in the sport itself continues to multiply.
Walking football is one of the fastest growing sports among older men, attracting players with its laid-back yet competitive ethos.
"It has been massively beneficial to the guys that play," added Mr Cockaday, 61.
"It's a way to make friends and it's the social aspect that appeals to people, but when we step on the pitch we want to win."
"We all thought those days were long gone and it just shows there is room for socialising and competitiveness in the game."