It’s a fairly new sport, but walking football is fast gaining an army of fans up and down the country. What is it exactly and why has it become so popular?
Walking football explained
As the name suggests, walking football is, essentially, football where players walk, but never run. It also goes by the name of slow football or low-impact football.
Walking football first came about in 2011, where it was played by the Chesterfield FC Community Trust. A Barclays TV advert thrust the game into the spotlight, however, in 2014, and there are now over 800 walking football clubs throughout the UK, with this number continuing to grow.
With the surging popularity of walking football, the FA has issued a number of rules of play for the game. The main rule is that players can only walk during the game, where one foot must remain on the ground at all times. If anyone runs or jogs, this results in a free kick for the opposing team. Some clubs also impose penalties if a ball is kicked over a certain height.
Typically, walking football involves two teams of five-to-seven players per side. Walking football is aimed at older people, where players tend to be over the age of 50.
However, that’s not to say the game offers limited appeal. It has already won the support of famous names, including Harry Kane and Alan Shearer, with Manchester City winning the race to be the first Premier League club to establish its own walking football team.
Walking football provides players with a whole host of mind and body benefits. In particular, for older people who no longer have the ability to play standard football, walking football means they can carry on enjoying the sport, without needing to hang up their boots.
Studies have found that walking football can reduce the risk of high blood pressure, stroke, cardiovascular disease, high cholesterol levels and even type 2 diabetes. It can also improve stamina, posture, balance, mobility and joint problems. As the sport is lower impact than normal football, there’s also less risk of injuries for players.
Aside from the body benefits, walking football has proven to be a great way to make friends and socialise, which can often get more difficult as we get older. It can prevent older people from feeling isolated and give them a sense of purpose and enjoyment as they reach retirement age and beyond. Indeed, some players are well into their 70s and even 80s.
By taking part in a sport that players may have once enjoyed, but now thought they were too old for, it can also reignite a sense of self-worth and confidence.
Moreover, walking football has been proven to be an effective way to help combat depression. In fact, some mental health charities have funded the establishment of walking football schemes in their local area to help tackle mental health problems and reduce social isolation.
Even if people don’t want to play the sport itself, there are other roles that they can get involved with, such as admin, organising matches and becoming a committee member. This can still give people a sense of purpose and provides a great opportunity to meet others and socialise.