Our man Mike Bacon tackles walking football at Walsham-le-Willows
- Credit: Gregg Brown
It’s not often I’m happy to be wrong, admits sports writer Mike Bacon.
But when it comes to ‘walking football’ – a form of the sport sweeping the nation for the over-50s - then I stand corrected.
From the day I heard the term ‘walking football’ – about three years ago – my brain could not compute how you could possibly put the two words together and come up with a sport.
I mean, who on earth walks when they play football?
Well, apart from my old mate Sharksey (he knows who he is!). I used to do all the running for him in the midfield, back in the day!
Anyhow, back to the present and I’m invited to participate in walking football, a sport aimed at players who still have the touch, but not the pace (I fit the category perfectly!).
“Come and give it a go Mike, you’ll enjoy it,” said Mike Powles, chairman of Walsham-le-Willows Football Club, who has introduced the sport to the village, with huge success.
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“OK,” I thought. “I’m in.”
So, having giggled at the thought of walking football a couple of years ago when I was still charging around the five-a-side pitches of Holbrook Academy with 20-somethings, a knee problem having slowed me down somewhat since, I didn’t quite think I was ready for walking football just yet, but hey! Let’s go see...
I turned up at Summer Road, Walsham at 1.30pm for the Tuesday afternoon session – there are three in total, Mondays 8-9pm, Tuesday 2-3pm and Thursdays 2-3pm.
Mike was there to greet me and a few of the regulars were already limbering up.
“It was three years ago we started this,” Mike said.
“We were in the board room at Walsham one Saturday afternoon and one of our sponsors, John Parker, saw the Barclays advert about walking football on the television.
“‘We should do that’, he said.
“It went from there. It has gone really well. My aim is to get up to 50 people playing over the three sessions we have. We are up to 40.”
Indeed some of the 40 were starting to congregate.
I changed into my Woodbridge Town coaching t-shirt, hoping no-one would notice my Woodpeckers badge, seeing as both sides compete in the Thurlow Nunn League – admittedly Walsham in the Premier Division, Woodbridge the First.
It was a warm day, not that I considered that much of an issue. I was hardly going to break into a sweat now, was I? The age ranges of my team-mates were late 50s to mid-70s and they couldn’t have made me feel more welcome.
Clearly a social event, as well as the chance for a bit of competitive sporting spirit, Mike summed it up. “It’s all about a bit of physical fitness,” he said.
“I know blokes here who use the walking football to lose a bit of weight. You can do anything at a slower pace, walking football is ideal.”
Aubrey Whatling, 74, who used to play for Pulham Market said: “I’ve been coming here since last September and it’s so enjoyable. I wish I’d started when I was 60, not 74!”
However, I must admit as we went to kick-off I was still wondering how this was going to pan out. How was I going to cope not running? It didn’t make sense. But it didn’t take me long to find out. The first pass that came my way saw me hit from behind as someone’s foot got to the ball before I did, with a little nudge in the back t’boot.
It was nothing malicious, but if I thought I was out for a Sunday stroll... Think again!
As the game wore on and I got more touches of the ball, I realised that while no-one sprinted - probably because no-one could, there was still an opportunity to ‘walk fast’, so to speak!
Passes ‘down the line’ had to be carefully judged, while the ball above head height was a no, no.
Walking at a pretty decent pace for an hour left me sweating like a good’un on a warm day in the Suffolk sunshine and I thoroughly enjoyed it. The company was pleasant, the game played in great spirit, with that tad of competitiveness still shining in the players’ eyes.
My team lost 3-2, but did I care? Well, yes I did actually.
No, only kidding. It was fun and the tea and biscuits afterwards went down a treat.
If you have ever thought, walking football...’Should I?’, Then do. You’ll love it.
For more information on walking football at Walsham, contact Mike Powles 07971 613933 or firstname.lastname@example.org, or Suffolk FA Flexible Football Officer Darren Scoulding on 01449 776313 or 07432 735984 or via e-mail Darren.email@example.com