First established in England and now a widely recognized sport played across the globe, walking football allows older, and less-able men and women take part in the game they already know and love, by minimizing their risk of injury.
It is often reported that walking football began England in 2011 when Chesterfield Community Trust devised and played a match with their team the Chesterfield Senior Spireites.
More recently, however, it has been claimed that the first match was much earlier. During the interwar period, in 1932, a charity game was played between two railway towns, Crewe and Derby— both teams having a combined age of over 700!
After the global bank Barclays featured the sport in their TV advert in 2014, there has been an enormous spike in popularity, with men and women starting their own walking football teams, designing their own kits and playing in professional tournaments through the Football Association.
What is walking football then?
Like its name suggests, walking football is a variant of football, which requires participants to walk (a lot harder than it sounds) at all times. What constituted as ‘walking’ however was a contentious issue, along with other unestablished rules of the game.
As a grassroots sport, rules were ad-hoc and varying, to say the least. To help the game spread far and wide, the Football Association stepped in to create some official guidance and rules. By unifying rules, teams could now play against one another, transforming a weekly hobby or form of exercise into competitive tournaments, for those who still had room in their trophy cabinets.
For the most part, the rules don’t deviate from the original football game, they’ve just been tweaked to protect the health and stamina of older participants for maximum enjoyment. Better, a charitable enterprise based in the UK, run sessions on their training pitches. They have created the below table, which shows at a glance, the key differences between football and walking football. The most notable differences are the unlimited substitutions, sin bins and blue cards.
What are the benefits of walking football for the elderly community?
Walking football, both casual sessions and competitive tournaments are not only a great way to help improve the health and fitness of the elderly, but they also help offset social isolation and forge friendships bonds and camaraderie between those who are most at risk of loneliness.
Rod Noble, Community Sports Manager at Better, has seen the positive effects of the sport firsthand in his sessions in the UK saying:
The primary aim when setting up walking football was to help people stay active, I didn’t anticipate just how quickly it would have snowballed into such a tight-knit community. This is the real thing we care about, helping elderly people find others close-by in similar situations so that they can forge strong bonds.
Walking football has brought people together, but it’s the people themselves that have created such valuable friendships. When someone doesn’t show up for a training session, we have everyone asking about them and if they’re okay. They’ve even got their own WhatsApp group and go on holidays with one another!
How can you get involved?
If you’re interesting a setting up a local team, all you need to do is consult the rule book, find some enthusiastic friends book a pitch and have some fun! Whatever the result, everyone comes out a winner.