One of the highlights of my childhood was rushing home from school, throwing on a football kit and rushing out to the park to have a kick-about with my friends. This carried on to my teenage days, and nowadays I still have a kick-about with mates once a week. All good things come to an end and one day I’ll have to hang up the boots.
However, that may be further in the future than I once thought. I went along to watch a game of walking football at Oriam, Heriot Watt’s sports complex, and spoke to the guys about what walking football is all about.
In short, walking football is just a kick-about with your mates, but you aren’t allowed to move quicker than a walking pace. This particular game had people aging from their fifties to their seventies. It is a way to keep the boots on beyond retirement from your day job, and keep you active.
Deric Oliver, who has hit his peak football form at the age of 67, is one of the founders and organisers for this walking football group. He explained how it kicked off, “We started off with just six or eight of us having a kick-about up at Balerno. We started in the winter, in the snow or rain, but we played anyway because we wanted to get out the house and play some football.
“Now it has grown to this.” He beckoned to the indoor pitch at Oriam, surrounded by everyone who had come to play. “In a way we are a victim of our popularity. We have 40 folk showing up to play walking football; this time last year we would have been lucky if we had 25. We have well over 80 members now, and it seems like we are continuing to grow.”
I caught up with some players between games and after the first game I asked Alan Thomson, the Bavarian of his team’s midfield at the prime age of 69, why he got into walking football,
“It was boredom why I started; and the desire to get a bit of exercise. It is really good fun and as a social activity it is fantastic. It keeps me away from the wife when she goes out to do the shopping, which is perfect for me.” He said with a chuckle.
Leslie, one of the first females to join the group, was upbeat after spending the game breaking up the opposition moves in a congested midfield.
“Walking football is absolutely amazing; I just love football. It’s good to be able to play at a pace that I can keep up. I’ve tried five-a-sides with youngsters, who are about 40, and I just cannot handle the pace. This is ideal, I’m a youngster here. It’s great.”
After the game I sat with some of the guys in the cafe at Oriam and we discussed the impact walking football had for them.
Thomson Bruce, one of the senior figures, in his early seventies, discovered walking football and has tried to play twice a week for over a year. “For me the great thing is we have guys here who thought they’d never play football again. We have guys from their fifties to their mid-seventies. It is great for your mental health and wellbeing and it keeps your fitness up.”
He continued, “It takes me back to my days as a kid when I’d run out my gate to play football in the street. That’s the feeling you get because at our age you never thought you’d play again. The fact we can rekindle that competitive spirit is absolutely brilliant. I gave up golf for this!”
From the vibe everyone gave off, one thing was certain- these people were enamoured of walking football. You could sense that this wasn’t only a good method of going out and getting exercise, this group had formed a strong bond. You could tell with the way they had a laugh with one another that they were still feeling like kids at heart.
Jim Hastie, a seasoned walking football veteran despite only being 57, explained, “I’ve been playing walking football for three years, and it’s the same feeling you get [as you got playing football when you were younger]. It’s the same skills; like pass and move, but it’s just pass and move at a slower speed.
“Plus, you get the same banter with your teammates which is a big thing. The social aspect is a major part of walking football, probably fifty percent of the reason I keep coming.
Willie Lumsden, a clinical finisher in his fifties, added, “Everyone is in the same boat; their age and everyone has had some sort of injury or another. I had a heart attack a few years back and this feels like the perfect remedy. Everyone that comes along and gives it a shot has a great time, and they really like it.”
For me one of the key problems I’d have whilst playing walking football would be showing restraint. How can you resist the urge to sprint after the ball? Even if you don’t have the legs to sprint would you not at least try?
Jim said, “Resisting the urge to sprint when playing walking football is virtually impossible. When there is the potential to be a goal at the end you feel like you need to go for it. Once you put a strip on you forget you are playing walking football, you are just playing football.”
Although the tempo is much slower than a regular game of football; walking football maintains the competitiveness that makes football the great recreational sport that it is, Thomson said. “It’s competitive, as everybody has that competitive edge, even at our age.” And in spite of that slow pace it still works as an adequate workout, one of the young dogs in his mid-fifties, Dougie Thomson, concluded our chat,
“I joined here [Oriam] as a member for fitness and that but I just hated running. But when I was younger I loved playing football. Walking football gave me more motivation as it was exercise with a purpose. It was football.”