The ball moves at pace, but the players don’t. A through ball is met on the other end with a power-walk. Those who would perhaps be staying indoors or sitting in the pub are out exercising and socialising.
Through all weather conditions, the Walking Football community comes together on what would otherwise be empty pitches. Improving people’s mental and physical health, and giving someone a chance to play their favourite game once again – this is Walking Football.
Who remembers the Barclay’s Walking Football advert of 2014? This advert brought people’s attention to the sport, but its portrayal of the game was somewhat misleading. Spencer Pratten, the current England captain, was keen to promote the game for its upcoming Euros and World Cup, but also wants people to recognise the social benefits the sport is having on everyone involved.
“The benefits of Walking Football are not just that you’re keeping fit, it’s that instead of being on a treadmill inside by yourself you can be out here with mates. To be honest with you it’s like being back at school again. It’s a rediscovery for some people. You can be in the dressing room mucking about even in your 60s and 70s which is just great! From a mental viewpoint, it’s so uplifting”.
The Barclay’s advert of 2014 portrayed the game as timid and slow, a misrepresentation of the fast, competitive and skilful sport. Spencer himself had reservations about the game before playing it, but he was quickly won over once he’d had a taste of the action.
“Within five minutes I realised it was nothing like the advert. It was quick, it was good, it was to feet, it was a lot more energetic than I thought it would be.” From what I saw, Pratten was right. The players I watched in Chelmsford were by no means holding back or restricting themselves. Just have a look at the clip below of this fantastic team goal scored by Pratten’s Chelmsford side. Some real quality in the movement and imagination of the players.
Walking Football has existed for seven years now and the popularity and appreciation for the sport is growing rapidly. This growth has been so substantial that there has been a formed England Walking Football team ready to compete in the inaugural European Championships and World Cup in 2019 and 2020 respectively. Walking footballers are now being given a stage to show off their abilities, and for many like Spencer, it’s the opportunity of a life-time to represent their country.
“It’s absolutely amazing”, Pratten said when asked about the captaincy. “I went to the two trials and played well, so naturally expected I had a pretty good chance of getting into the England team, but I didn’t have any real thoughts of being the captain, but it’s been a real honour and I’m enjoying every minute of it”.
“When you think that the game is 6 or 7 years old and we’re at this stage now, it’s a phenomenal growth. I think it just shows how many people around the world love the game of football. Walking Football has two families to it. The ethos of the game was to get older people out and about playing football and keeping fit, and naturally born out of that was a competitive element which takes hold.
“You’ve got competitions now which started off as local leagues. We’re in the Essex league and there’s leagues all over the country. From this an England team was formed, and it’s a natural growth really. What do you do if you’ve got teams in Italy, in Spain and in Holland? You think; let’s have a World Cup or European championships!”
The England team have played international games at the Amex Stadium in Brighton, highlighting the great lengths to which Premier League clubs and the rest of the footballing world are going to to promote the game. Pratten believes the creation of the upcoming tournaments isn’t too surprising, and is hoping they can improve the image of the sport to it being genuinely recognised as a competitive affair across the world.
“We’re not far off this game being recognised as a genuine sport. Obviously it follows a logical process: school-boy football, Saturday morning, semi-pro and professionals, veterans football and now you’ve got this step up to Walking Football. I think we’re nearly there because the game has taken off dramatically in the United Kingdom and across the world. There’s tournaments all across Europe which is great because I think the benefits of this game are huge. If someone is getting involved in Walking Football, it’s keeping them fit and healthy, away from doctors and other problems, so there’s definitely a knock on effect” said Pratten.
Walking Football has adopted subtle changes in order to maintain inclusion for so many players. Opportunities to play the game to a much older age can be a reassuring thought in the minds of many who fear early retirement. These opportunities could be the catalysts for a decline in mental and physical health problems for men and women between the ages of 50 and 75.
The Barclay’s advert might have caused some ridicule towards the sport, but despite this, the game has continued to grow rapidly. Spencer’s competitive edge did show as he highlighted his determination to work hard and ensure he can continue to lead his country once the Euro’s and World Cup come to England. Above anything else though, he stressed the importance of helping people feel part of a community and getting back into exercise, rediscovering a game they’d forgotten they loved.