Video & photo gallery: Walking Football can offer rapid return for retired players in Norfolk
- Credit: Archant
Reporter GAVIN CANEY shares his experiences of Norfolk FA's first Walking Football taster session.
If opinions were judged on smiles then the future of the beautiful game's latest adaptation has a bright future in Norfolk.
The county's football association held their first Walking Football taster session on Friday aimed primarily at getting retired players back out on the hallowed turf. While that surface may have been synthetic at the Football Development Centre in Bowthorpe, Norwich, there was nothing fake about the enthusiasm felt by those taking part.
Eight over 50-year-olds, joined by myself, aged 27, and the organiser, Norfolk's football development officer (adult) Fionn Goodwin-Wright, were guinea pigs of the initiative which has already been a success in other parts of the country – hardly a surprise as it's our national sport. But this idea is not football as we know it.
While the rules, in essence –although not standardised yet – are still the same there is one key difference to this relatively new format. Running is banned (punishable by a free-kick). Even though the simple art of walking takes a little while to master, in terms of not breaking into a short burst to collect a loose ball, it is less damaging on joints that are perhaps not quite as supple as they once were. A lack of fitness is not punishable in this game.
Men, and women, who have not lost their competitive edge can still get their football fix without pushing their bodies to the complete limits in the process. And it was great to see. What those sharing the pitch with us 20-somethings lacked in fitness they made up for in a desire to succeed. While their bodies might not be as sharp as they once were, their minds didn't miss a beat. At a slower pace, they could enjoy rolling back the years and relive their battles of yesteryear. It was heart warming to witness.
Within minutes of kick-off the cammaraderie they have been missing out on, not felt in the same way through non-team sports like walking or running – or many other ways ex-players like Stephen Moy now use to stay healthy, returned. There were laughs. There was banter. But most of all there was happiness.
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Yes, it's not easy trying to find a pocket of space to find the ball without a sharp dash to beat a marker. But Walking Football works the mind and the touch. Forget being over-50, this sport could teach us youngsters a thing or two about how to play the game.
And that's what it was at the FDC. A good-natured competitive clash, to discover the winning team, that was self-policed. It was football in its purest form. For fitness. For enjoyment. For a challenge. For friendships. For getting out of the house – which could be happening more often if this great iniative takes off, which I really hope it does.
Teams: Fionn Goodwin-Wright (aged 29), Stephen Moy (59), Rodney Smith (65), Mark Gunner (53), Michael Banham (55)
Gavin Caney (27), Chris Rackham (63), Alan Sharman (66), Roger Smith (67), Gary Reeves (67)
A trip down memory lane for Sharman
The eight veterans who dusted off their moulded boots, or in some cases trainers, all had their own stories to tell.
When they took up football. What level they played at. When they quit. And more importantly why they quit. For some it was because of work. For most it was through injury or age. But for some, like 66-year-old Alan Sharman, it was because they'd started to fall out of love with the game.
Sharman, a former player, player-manager and then manager in the grassroots scene, said: 'I suppose I was about 47. Things were changing within the FA and the rules of the game.
'There were youngsters coming through and it wasn't quite the same as what it was when I was playing. On the sidelines there was a lot of swearing and it wasn't like it used to be so I stopped playing.'
Stints playing badminton and hockey did little to replace the buzz the Long Stratton man felt when crossing the white line. And from the moment he saw the Barclays advert that showed Walking Football he was given a way back into a sport that had been a huge part of his life.
He said: 'I'd been looking for a year for something really local to me. And now I've found it.
'It's something I've been wanting to do for an awful long while. I play football with the grandchildren but it's not the same as what we achieved out there. To come along and meet a bunch of guys with the same thoughts that I have, and to want to give it their all, was excellent.
'It brought back lots of memories, to be with a ball and a group of men. That doesn't happen when you get older, so this is superb.'