Three months ago I made my debut as a walking footballer.
Gis and I (we are both 58, he needs reminding, I never do), arrived at The Hive at 6.55 pm on a typically cold February evening and along with a ‘real football’ coach and four or so other people we warmed up and played a 3-a-side version of this slow-motion form of sport. A hybrid of a hybrid if you like.
It was fantastic. Even the post-match aching calves and revisited crunches of my left titanium bolted knee couldn’t dampen the joy of a) scoring a goal and b) being back ‘in the game’. I’m not a competitive person, but for some reason scoring a goal has been a personal priority since I realised at the age of 11 that I was more a striker than a defender.
Walking football in a nutshell:
- It is real football. Make no mistake.
- Players must be at least 50 years old.
- It can be played with any number of players up to 11 per side.
- The ‘head height’ rule applies.
- You cannot ever run. To be clear, whether you are on the ball or trying to get into a position, you have to walk there. What is odd is that for a laggard like me, running to collect an over-booted, out-of the-stadium ‘can we have our ball back’ ball, becomes a pleasure. It creates a momentary need to achieve speed (NB momentary is the key word here).
What I have learned about people:
Last week I brought Barry along and at half time he commented ‘These people are taking this seriously’. It was quite ironic because I noted that Barry himself, during his ‘first 45’ missed two shots on goal and heavily cursed himself for it. What I think Barry meant was ‘I’m taking this seriously’. He went back the following day when another game was happening and scored.
Before Barry’s intervention I had not thought just how important the now weekly game had become to its participants. About a month ago, when the prospect of a tournament was raised, we were asked whether we wanted to partake in competitive matches or have more of a ‘kick about’. I was the only one that opted for the latter. Whatever that says about me, it shows that the other players want to play and they want to compete. In short, people need to win. Age, gender, past injuries notwithstanding, as humans we are programmed to need and strive for victory.
The Hive is aptly named. There are several pitches and come any weekday evening, all are well used by scores of youngsters buzzing, running and kicking around their respective pitches, all taking it seriously. I’m convinced that other than by the anxious observing parents we older folks are not noticed at all. But if the youths were to take note (by the way there are as many female as male players) they’d see that they are taking part in something that can now be done forever. A young person may not invest much time into thinking 45 years forwards, but when you are 45 years ahead of the lithe ones, being able to recapture some of the spirit is uplifting.
What I have learned about football and therefore…LIFE
A key skill in Running Football is the ability to pass the ball ‘into space’ i.e. the location where your colleague is not right now, but will be by the time ball, passed by you, arrives. Players are coached to do this from an early age and it’s a big part of the team ethic. I suggested earlier that I have a selfish need to score goals, this greed is not unique and as young players mature they learn to derive pleasure from passing well and from assisting their team mates.
In Walking Football you cannot pass into space because your colleague won’t get there, instead you have to pass it directly to them. It encourages different skills and challenges everything we learned when we were young.
Considering where somebody is now, rather than where they’ll be in the future is an appropriate metaphor for ageing. When you’re young tomorrow seems guaranteed. As we get on, the warranty cannot be extended no matter how much you pay.
From observing my co-middle aged players I have also noticed how many of us still have muscle and mental memory. It can lead to frustration because the body has become less able to carry out our minds’ instructions, but it’s intriguing to note that at 55, 65 and 75 we can have the same standards as we had ‘back in the day’. You can see it in our eyes. It’s good to make demands of yourself.