Walking Football 3 years on.
Readers will know that in 2016 I started playing walking football (WF). Three years later I’m still playing. It began as an activity for people aged 50+ and has expanded so much that there are 1000’s of WF teams throughout the UK and Europe.
At Barnet Football Club we have 2 weekly sessions and there is plenty of opportunity to take part in competitions too. I, however, do not get involved in these. A practical reason is that as I have not yet retired, I do not have spare time during the week. The second reason is that I do not like the way that competitive games make me behave. I took part in a tournament last June and I played quite well. My team got to the semi-finals and among my team mates, developed a reputation for being a pragmatic, no-nonsense player. This is code for saying that I kicked opponents and demonstrated toughness and gamesmanship. My colleagues liked it and to be honest, I enjoyed their plaudits. However, aggression is a bad, if unapparent trait in me and considering I once ruptured my ACL trying to foul somebody, I do not wish to tap into it again. Also, it is not how a middle aged person should behave. Absolutely. Not.
I took up football again because I wanted to get fit doing a sport I love and to make new friends. Whenever we play I spend much of the time laughing out loud and enjoying the fact that the many errors we make are funny. I know I look foolish trying to do something I couldn’t even execute properly in my teens but I’m amused that my brain still imagines me doing a back-heel, even though my chocolate knee crumbles each time I pivot on it. Last year, two teenage footballers were watching our slow clumsy efforts through the fence. As I trotted towards them to collect the ball, one of them called out ‘’Scuse me, are you playing Walking Football?’ After I confirmed her suspicion, she turned to her conspirator and gleefully told her; ‘You see, they’re meant to be slow. Dummy!’
This filled me with joy. The idea that two people were mesmerized not by our prowess or rugged mature looks (yes, somebody did suggest this) but by the fact that we reminded them of their parents or quite probably; their grandparents but doing things parents and grandparents simply do not do.
Our football group is diverse. We have a men with new hips and knees, a female (although once upon a time we had more), a typical ‘London’ racial mix and some younger men that contribute towards the evening with passion and energy. The group, however, has changed. As recently as last summer we had four or five other, much better players all of whom have moved on, I understand, to higher planes of walking football. On one level I prefer this because as one of the better Mediocres, I look better by their absence but I am also disappointed to have learned that these people, all of whom I like, have rejected the pleasures of playing among mixed ‘talents’ and are aiming towards excellence.
Walking Football has done a strange thing; it has brought back dreams to some ageing men. When we began I was enchanted by the notion that I could once again play the sport until I die. Something that abandoned me in the 1990’s had returned and I had my chances again. I love buying boots and other bits of kit and feel a real sense of recreational purpose. I did not however dream of being a champion. When I sat down to write this piece I was minded to be critical of those who have moved on but in writing this I realise it would be churlish to deny them their fantasy. After all, why should their dream be less valid than my non-dream?
So I say ‘go for it boys, just don’t get hurt’.