One Club Story 6: Walking Football

AFC RUSHDEN & DIAMONDS WALKING FOOTBALL – IT’S GREAT TO BE BACK.

WALKING FOOTBALL – WHO, WHY AND WHEN

As we get older, we know just how important it is to exercise our mind and body. There are so many activities that can help to keep us fit and Walking Football is one of them. Whether you enjoyed the thrill of playing football in your youth, or you’ve never kicked a ball before, Walking Football is a great way for people of varying abilities to feel the excitement of the game. In essence, Walking Football is football without running that more closely resembles the five-a-side than 11-a-side game. It came about in order to inspire men aged 50 and over to get more exercise and counter social isolation. Thousands of older men – and women – across the country are now rediscovering the joys of football by playing it at a more leisurely pace, but walking football doesn’t only provide gentle exercise, it is also a social occasion, a great way to meet new people and improve your self-esteem. For those with a competitive streak, there is also the opportunity to play friendly fixtures and competitive tournaments.

The modern game of Walking Football was first played in 2011 by the Chesterfield FC Community Trust (now Chesterfield Senior Spireites FC), but it was a Barclays Bank advertisement in 2014 featuring a chap called Roy extolling the wonders of walking football that really brought the sport to the attention of the nation. AFC Rushden & Diamonds were one of the first clubs in Northamptonshire to pick up on the potential benefits of walking football and add it to their portfolio of community based activities. Our very first session took place on Thursday 17th April 2014 (coincidentally 126 years to the day that The Football League came into being). From those early days with just 4 regular attendees we have grown into a thriving and successful club and look forward to continuing to contribute to the development of the sport.  

COMMUNITY INVOLVEMENT – DOING OUR BIT

Having previously drawn attention to the excellent work that our walking football volunteers are doing at Harborough Road surgery, Rushden, I make no apology for continuing to highlight their contribution. As a community based club we believe it is important to step up to the mark when called upon to do so. We are proud to be involved in the vital work of ensuring that covid-19 vaccine is available to those wishing it. Working with surgery staff it is an opportunity for us to give back to the community we represent in a practical way. We have a long term commitment to the surgery and will continue to offer our services until they are no-longer required. Working on the principal of ‘A little bit of what you fancy does you good’ our walking footballers performing duties at Harborough Grove surgery clubbed together to raise over £100.00p to buy the surgery staff a selection of treats. The lads decided that a good supply of biscuits, cakes and chocolate were in order having heard on good authority that a GP surgery is powered by such goodies. Not only are our team-mates doing a brilliant job marshalling at the surgery but the generosity of these guys never ceases to amaze.

FIXTURES AND THE FUTURE IN THE NEW NORM

Lockdown has proved to be a difficult time for all community based team sports. While we had to draw a line under our playing activities 2021 has never-the-less, been a busy time behind the scenes with Walking Football re-aligning its operation to play under the umbrella of the Community Benefit Society.  We have now resumed our weekly sessions at Ferrers School (Mondays 7.30pm – 9.00pm) and Islip sports field (Thursdays 7.00pm – 9.00pm). Not only is it great to have a ball at our feet once again but it is such a delight to be able to meet up with old team mates and to greet new members attracted to the sport which is proving so popular that we now have the regular use of two pitches at Higham. 

Nor is there any shortage of potential fixtures both locally and further afield for those who wish to play in a more competitive environment. The popularity of walking football has resulted in a spectacular growth in walking football clubs across the region and with the easing of covid related restrictions we hope to take full advantage of the opportunity to resume our close involvement with our county colleagues in arranging fixtures. Since there is currently no walking football league our games are restricted to ‘friendly’ fixtures or organised tournaments. Either way, both provide the opportunity to promote AFC Rushden & Diamonds, challenge our players and importantly have fun.

Tuesday 1st June sees us make the short journey down the A14 to Rothwell to take on FC Aztecs. This is our first fixture of the year and also the very first time the two clubs will have met on the walking football field. We are delighted to be fielding both 50+ and 60+ squads and it will be an important test for us as we prepare for the county’s first tournament of 2021 scheduled for Sunday 4th July hosted by Daventry Town. 

EUROPEAN ADVENTURE

In 2019 we participated in ‘Eurocopa Algarve’ held annually in Portugal. Whilst the squad was based in Albufeira the tournaments games were played at Futebol Club Ferreiras excellent 2,000 capacity ‘Estadiois lda Nora’ ground located in the town of Ferreiras just 6 kms to the North. 2019 marked the fourth year of the ‘Eurocopa Algrave’ 7 a-side International Walking Football tournament (previously known as the Albufeira Walking Football Cup). Held over two days and with 17 clubs registering 31 teams from across Europe and South Africa the event represented a massive organizational feat. From Portugal were teams representing Benfica, East Algarve WF, Lagos Strollers, and Silver Coast Strollers. From the UK were Fulham WF, Brackley Saints and Sinners, Oxford United WFC, AFC Rushden & Diamonds WF, Northwich 1874 WF, Hartshill Strollers WFC, Cottingham Rangers WFC, Clacton Knights WFC and North Lanarkshire WFC. France were represented by Aulany WFC. Spain by Almanzora Valley WF, and Browns Sports Club, and South Africa by Luso Africa. Diamonds crossed the line in a very creditable 14th place.

AFC Rushden & Diamonds WF squad, Portugal 2019:
(L to R): Jake Baker, John Sanderson, Darren Beerling, Paul Sulphur,  Pete McCrone, Alan Wookey, Phil Critchell, Mark Rogers,  John Barnes.

Sadly our participation in the competition was not possible in either 2020 or 2021 due to covid restrictions however, our sights are firmly focused on 2022 and we remain cautiously optimistic of being able to participate once again. Portugal was not the first occasion that club members had competed abroad. In 2016 three of our players gained WF tournament experience playing in Alicante, Spain. Competing on an international stage against other European clubs is a great personal experience and is also an ideal opportunity for potential sponsors to support the team whilst promoting their brand.

UPWARDS AND ONWARDS

Walking football is here to stay and we are doing our best to accommodate the increasing number of local people wishing to experience the sport. We have already taken steps to increase the number of pitches available to us and will be continue to review our options as we focus on future development. It would be very remiss of us not to recognise the incredible help and assistance provided by AFC R&D Youth C.I.C. as we struggled to get established and our appreciation of their support cannot be understated. Going forward we are very excited by our new working relationship with AFC Rushden & Diamonds and look forward to continuing to promote the reputation and values of AFC Rushden & Diamonds and its community clubs.

AFC Rushden & Diamonds

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