Walking football is proving to be a big hit for the over 50’s
- Credit: Nick Butcher
Across the country hundreds of previously retired sports fanatics are dusting off their boots to take part in the walking football initiative.
In its usual context walking football is a negative term, used to describe a team that has completed far too many passes when the best option was to shoot.
However, a new initiative which is rapidly spreading across the region, is putting the term to positive use by encouraging players over the age of 50 to get fit, meet new people and hopefully score a few goals in the process.
Walking football is a slower paced version of our beautiful game designed to keep players active and to allow them to restart their footballing careers. The game is non-contact and anyone who sprints, runs or jogs while the ball is in play will be penalised, with a free-kick awarded to the other team.
Kirkley & Pakefield FC have been one of the pioneers of the movement.
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The Wayne Rooney of the team is 77-year-old Brian Sturman, who has had two hip replacements and is trying to get new players on board.
He explained: 'I have been involved in football since I was 10-years-old. I must have seen hundreds of games and hundreds of grounds and played on them. I never made the dizzy heights of the Premier League though.
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'Everybody is beginning to talk now about walking football.'
Mr Sturman, who attends every game that the Kirkley senior team plays, understands the importance of the new initiative – both socially and for physical well-being.
'I don't want to be a celebrity – all I want to do is bring something to this club and the community. If you keep your health there's no limit on how long you can play. We play the proper way – pass and walk. When I first did it I was so eager to run. Once you have started playing this game, there is so much fun attached to it. When we come off there we all have smiles on our faces.'
Mr Sturman is keen to attract more players to Walmer Road, with the final aim to be able to play other teams in area.
One of those teams attempting to follow Kirkley's lead is Beccles Town, with Dennis McGee and David Banks at the forefront of their proposal.
Mr Banks said: 'I am still a full-time referee and since I was eight years old I've never stopped enjoying football. I played up until I was 40 before I went on to run a team. We still want to participate in football and to get people our age who used to play involved.
'For men of our age it's good to get out of the house, get some fresh air, some exercise and to meet up with people you haven't seen for ages.'
Mike Guymer originally came up with the idea at Kirkley but has now moved onto a role as chairman of Beccles Caxton FC.
'The looks on people's faces and to see them kicking a football again, made it for me. At the moment, Kirkley are providing the facility for free but it is only available at particular times.
'The council are saying there could be money for people to coach it,' he said.
Barrie Atkins, who has been involved at Kirkley for many years, also takes part.
'At the first session we had a Lowestoft town season ticket holder who had only popped out to get fish & chips for him and his wife; he gave us a look and stayed for an hour,' he said.
When it was first set up, the scheme at Kirkley was closely linked to the charity Prostate Cancer UK with the players raising bibs to raise awareness.
Gary Haines, Sports PR Manager at the charity said: 'For a long time it's been said that men struggle to take their health seriously, and to some extent we know that to be true. But when you see examples of guys doing stuff together like walking football its proof that what Prostate Cancer UK is doing in terms of waking up men to their health is a realistic ambition.
The best ideas are infectious. They inspire other people to do them so we could love to see other teams and clubs take this up in their local communities. It's only by bringing these people together that we can fight prostate cancer on an effective basis'.
Kirkley & Pakefield currently run their sessions on a Wednesday from 3-5pm.
Are you looking to start up a new initiative? E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org