Walking football has been growing in popularity in Falkirk.
With many careers, at all levels, from professional to Sunday league, being ended through a combination of age and injury, walking football offers the same enjoyment of the beautiful game but with less strain on the body.
Stenhousemuir Football Club has held walking football sessions for over a year and offers two every week.
Jamie Kirk, community developer director, looks after the adult pathway in the club and was surprised with the popularity of the initiative.
He said: “At first we thought a morning session on a Monday from 10am to 11am would be enough, however we had a lot of people who work so on a Wednesday from 6pm to 7pm at Ochilview park we run a second session.”
The club now has 20 people signed up to play walking football.
The sport is aimed at the over 50s and has no age limit. Jamie said the oldest member at Stenhousemuir is 74 and that it is not all retired men and women.
“The feedback we received was that people in work also wanted the chance to play, so walking football is definitely not just for the retired.
“Nor is it just for men, we are in the pilot stage of trialling a women’s group.” Jamie said.
Stenhousemuir Football Club is in the early stages of inviting women to participate in walking football.
So far the club has had eight women turn up to play and is going to focus on getting more involved with the sport.
I was invited to play a game of walking football in Linlithgow, thanks to the Linlithgow Rose Community Football Club, and I had already decided that the game would not be that difficult at all.
How hard could it be to walk and play football, considering I play the sport every week?
When I arrived at the club, I spoke to some of the other players and heard their stories, some had played all their life and could no longer play at the fast pace, others had suffered an injury and some were just looking to keep fit.
So having investigated my opposition, I believed that this would be a walk in the indoor park for me, a reasonably fit 22-year-old.
The game kicked off and despite it being labelled walking football, the pace is anything but slow. At no point are you standing still, as soon as you lose the ball you immediately have to turn round to walk back and help your team.
Skill also plays a large part in the game, with normal football the ball can be passed yards in front of the receiver and they will run to catch it, however in walking football, the pass has to be so much more accurate so your team mate actually has a chance of getting to it.
Despite the target market of walking football being older, the physicality of the game still exists with a few players at Linlithgow having razor sharp elbows and an eye for kicking a shin. At one point my team mate was on the floor, following a definite booking, however the ‘ref’ didn’t seem to care – typical!
At first I was trying to keep score as I’m very competitive, however it soon became clear that the score is the last thing on anyone’s mind.
The walking football at Linlithgow is a fairly new one and the people I was playing with, until recently did not know each other and yet here they were joking, laughing and having fun together.
That is the point of the game, getting out, doing some exercise and enjoying yourself, not who wins or loses.
Before I knew it, the hour was up and the session was over and I can honestly say it was some workout.
In total I walked over three kilometres, which according to the regulars is the very least they do.
This shows another benefit to walking football as it is a great source of exercise, and you are unaware of how much you actually do.
For those who don’t like gyms or are bored by going for walks, walking football is a great way to keep fit and improve your health.
The Linlithgow initiative is one of many groups in and around Falkirk that look to build the sport into something bigger.
Stenhousemuir has big plans for the sport, with Jamie stating they want to offer different sessions for differing levels of ability.
“We would like to have a class for beginners, for those just starting out. Maybe even link it with the NHS and offer it to people as part of their rehabilitation from injury or surgery.
“At the other end I would like us to have a group for our most advanced, the players who could still play normal five-a-side but enjoy walking football more.”
The sport is definitely growing, with tournaments being organised and groups being created across the country.
Walking football is a great workout – an amazing chance to meet people but most importantly, is fantastic fun and a great way to spend an evening.