Gloucestershire FA gives big thumbs up to December walking football week spectacle
The county association laid on a series of sessions across Bristol and Gloucestershire last month in a concerted attempt to raise awareness about the benefits of the gentler-paced version of the sport and encourage more people to get involved, on and off the pitch
GFA football development officer and organiser Jack Stanbury enthused: “The five days were a big success and everything ran smoothly.
“It all kicked off at Stratford Park Leisure Centre in Stroud on the Monday with a usual turn-up-and-play session there and the hall was packed, helped by the fact three new people had heard about the event and wanted to give it a go.
“We then took the ‘show’ to Horfield Leisure Centre in Bristol which Bristol United, who play in our own GFA Walking Football League, were hosting.
“They had 30 people in attendance and staged two small-sided games running alongside each other during a day covered by Geoff Twentyman at Radio Bristol and Bristol TV
“Bristol United have club membership and operate like any regular club affiliated to the GFA, but they are happy for newcomers to just turn up to their normal hour-long Tuesday sessions from 10.30am and give it a go.
“They usually pop across the road afterwards for a chat and occasional pub quiz at The Crafty Cow to make it even more of a social event!
“Disabled people with physical and learning challenges are also encouraged to partake in walking football, which is why we made that our Wednesday theme at Waterwells Sports Centre in Quedgeley near Gloucester.
“Sessions overseen by Abbeymead Rovers are held there once a week between 10am and 11am for attendees of two local day-care centres.
“It’s the first of its kind and is usually attended by 15 or so people of varying ages but there were more present on this particular Wednesday, all sporting their Christmas jumpers which was good to see.”
The week continued on Thursday at Cirencester Arena with a series of GFA Walking Football League fixtures concerning the 60-plus age division.
Jack explained: “The day involved eight teams and more than 80 players and again it went extremely well. We focused on refereeing too as we’ve become one of the first in the country to launch a referees course solely for walking football as part of a new FA initiative.
“Each six-a-side team played four games and featured the current leaders Cirencester Town, Stroud, Bristol United, Abbeymead Rovers and Phoenix Blue (Cirencester), along with teams from Hereford, Wiltshire and even Weston-super-Mare.
“Friday, the final day of the series, was a cracking one too as we had the England Over-60s manager Stuart Langworthy and four of his national team present along with former Bristol Rovers players Nick Tanner, Jeff Meacham and Dave Gilroy.
“We also pitched our own GFA staff into action against the England boys and Bristol Rovers team which was great fun and concluded an excellent week in style.
“The GFA host our own turn-up-and-play sessions at the Oaklands Park 3G centre in Almondsbury every Friday between 12.30 and 1.30pm where we’ll always encourage and welcome more people to come and try it out.
“Walking football can be tougher than it looks. It’s a different way of playing and as a regular local player of the normal full-sized game myself, I can say that you really do build up a sweat over an hour-long stint and you do have to be accurate with your passing.”
Jack added: “Walking football is an adapted version of the beautiful game, aimed predominantly at older males and females, which can provide an array of benefits such as improvement in general health and balance. It can also enhance psychological wellbeing and reduce stress levels.
“This format of the game is incredibly accessible and is also used across disability football, for injury rehabilitation and for those of any age who don’t feel suited to the full-paced game.
“The other benefit is that those people who do not wish to actively play the walking game can still engage in other aspects of it, such as team management, administration and officiating.”
Anyone wishing to find out about the many walking football opportunities to be found in Bristol and Gloucestershire can email Jack at firstname.lastname@example.org or call him on 01454 615888 (option 3). Or can browse the website's walking football section HERE.