For quite a while now I’ve been hearing about walking football, the concept seems to have gained a lot of momentum too recently with the help of a television commercial encouraging a group to use social media to get others involved and that’s what seems to have happened.
After about the 50th viewing, I had become intrigued to the point of wanting to see if I could give it a go myself. First step was to find out what walking football was, who was eligible and on the back of the advice of the advert I took to social media to see if there was a group or team of walking footballers near me… and there was.
I first got in touch with Aylesbury United’s walking football club on Facebook, I asked when, where and who could play? “In two night’s time, locally and anyone” were the answers. That also applied to me, an ambulant disabled man, who could hardly walk at all.
Over the next 48 hours this was something that I thought long and hard about. I’m always pushing myself physically but I’m getting more apprehensive about being alone or without any assistance when walking or just being out and about. My balance is terrible and my legs constantly burn and feel shaky to the point of always wanting to take the weight off, even after just a few steps. Luckily some advice from my wife got rid of those anxieties in just a couple of sentences. Like every idea I have or challenge that I’m thinking about I always run it passed Michelle first and she will always comes back with a very honest opinion and in the case of walking football and my apprehension Michelle simply said “You need to concentrate on what you can do and not what you can’t, at this moment you can walk so you need to do this.” Well that was me told, wasn’t it?
18:55, a bitterly cold Monday night, in a car park next to an artificially turfed pitch.
I left the blistering warm, comfort of my car and made my way under the floodlights to meet Matt Doherty, the man I’d been talking to on social media about walking football and the manager of my local team. Matt briefly explained the rules and the fact that there was no discrimination here, it’s open to everyone but predominately over 50’s, throw in’s are roll in’s, no running, and that’s it. I initially told Matt that I would just be here to spectate as my legs were very weak and it had been a long day.
These were football supporters playing of many different clubs from Barcelona, both sides of Manchester, lots of London clubs, myself in my Leeds top and Matts very own Aylesbury United of the Evo-stik southern league. There was also a big variation in age with the players, youngest being late teens to the oldest being 79 years old.
I spent most of the game walking up and down the line and listening to all well mannered teasing, mockery in an air of persiflage. Running was definitely not allowed and it was made obvious that it would result in a free kick. I must admit it was funny seeing people trying their best not to run. One thing I must say though is that when there was a fall or a player went down to the ground then play was stopped and the players welfare was the biggest concern and taken care of by everyone, brilliant.
It was near the end, with 15 minutes to go that I felt itchy feet and an urge to get on the pitch. I couldn’t possibly call it a night without getting involved and giving it a go so I gestured to Matt that I wanted to give it a go and I was on. Left wing with absolutely no chance whatsoever for the first 5 minutes, sheer frustration. My head knew what I needed to do but my legs weren’t interested. Walking too slow and the ball went out, late kick and miss, ball went out. I just wasn’t quick enough. Eventually I got the ball a couple of times and got rid of it as quick. I felt like a funambulist with no balance bar at all, completely alone and vulnerable.
It was the eleventh hour when “Geordie” got the ball in the area, he had no room so passed it out to me, I trapped it, he moved to the room he needed, I passed it back, he put it across the penalty area and another player put it away! That… that’s what had made it all worth it and like all the others that I’d seen smiling all evening, I was now grinning from ear to ear. This may sound extremely insignificant to someone who is able bodied and plays football often but it meant the world to me.
“Same time next week?” Matt called and after that I got a picture of the teams and everyone was off. I was shattered then and I’m shattered now, still, three days later but that’s the price I pay I guess for pushing myself. It was worth it though and will now always be that way because I’m concentrating on what I can do and not on what I can’t.
You can join Matt and the team on Quarrendon astro turf, Aylesbury, every Monday at 19:00. Subs £3 and also the team face book page is here>> https://www.facebook.com/WalkingFootballAylesbury
Alternatively just google ‘Walking football’ and your local area, I’m sure you’ll find a club.
Follow me on twitter @HywoodMartin