Yes, the title is correct, football where running is not allowed. That is the beauty of the sport of football, that it can be as versatile as you require and it can reach as wide a group of people as you wish.
Walking football is the latest idea to have been launched in Gibraltar by the Gibraltar Football Association in conjunction with the GSLA and other charitable organisations involved in providing leisure and sports services to the over 50’s, such as PAAMOA.
On Friday a group of “younger” players were put through their paces by a team of 50’s, 60’s 70 year olds who had, for the past six weeks, been practising the sport in their leisure time, as part of the official launch of the sport.
Very much football, but with one rule that many found difficult to adapt to, you just couldn’t run, or for that matter slide tackle, it was cheating and therefore considered a foul. The ball was just the same as in football, the pitch just the same, the goals just the same, the tactics just the same, but it had those special rules which made football more accessible to larger groups who in their senior years didn’t have the opportunity to kick a ball around.
Some admitted to not having kicked a ball around in a match for ten, twenty or more years. The chance to do so had not been there, yet they were all very willing and able, and wanting to do so. Football was in their blood and the desire to play was still there.
The aim of the launch of the sport was to encourage others like them to join in the sport so that more and more people could participate. Countless of former players exist, both male and female who still enjoy the sport, but due to health reasons, physical fitness or just mere fact they have reached a certain age they have not had the opportunity to continue with the sport.
Speaking after the match during a social gathering, which in itself is part of the overall idea, we found like-minded people talking among themselves enthusiastically about the match they had just played, with the same excitement as you would expect from the younger generations.
CoreSportGib spoke to some of them to find out what they thought. First on hand was Alex Lopez from the Gibraltar Referees association who had officiated one of the matches said, “you see them walking but they do not walk when they start running they can’t. It’s actually very enjoyable seeing people of their age, my age enjoying football. Today’s launch went very well, we enjoyed ourselves and we can now have a cup of coffee, it was great fun really.”
Gladys Sanchez one of the women who went to participate said “I really enjoyed it the tendency is you want to run.”
“Yes I have always liked football, my dad was a ref he used to take me to the matches in England I think it has been at least ten years since I kicked a ball about, we played a charity match for the airport and I played for them,” she added, “more and more women will eventually get into it.”
Amelia, representing PAAMOA, thought it was “a great idea” from the point of view of her organisation, adding that her association offer different activities for senior citizens “this is yet another one,” she added “very different to what we do it opens up new options, not only health wise but also socially, and it will probably attract more male members to our association, and above all working in a very very safe environment so I think it’s a brilliant idea.”
She indicated that she definitely would encourage other people to join up. “Our association runs water based classes and it might encourage people to join if they do not like water based activities.”
Amongst those who had played during the launch was also women’s footballer and referee Stacey Rowbottom, whose mother Gladys played today. Asked what she thought as a young person of her walking football experience she said “it was excellent it was so difficult to walk and not run, the competitiveness of even the older players gives you the wish to run I found most of this players wanted to play football.”
Asked if she would do it again she replied that she enjoyed it and seeing that that is the main objective of it indeed she would.
CoreSportGib also had the chance to speak to Gibraltar FA’s Grassroots Manager Leslie Asquez asked what he thought of the launch he replied, “I think it a very positive launch this group of guys have been doing it for the past seven weeks and the Gibraltar Football Association with PAAMO association and Gibraltar Sports and Leisure Authority are going to get more people to get into playing walking football. We are going to get more women to participate also.”
Although the media had arrived late due to a minor error in the times send out we did catch Leslie scoring at the launch match, so we decided to ask him about his experience on the field. “The thing is I want to run, the mentality is you want to run but then you realise you have to walk so you stop. Sometimes I could have gone running, done dribbling or whatever, but its walking football you cannot run because if you run it’s a foul. You really do have to participate in it to realise the difficulties. Once you get into the system I think it will work properly.”
Asked if this was more of a skill and tactics based game approach rather than physical Leslie agreed, “there is no need for contact, no sliding tackles just walking and passing the ball. You can see the faces of the guys they enjoy it and they have fun with it and yet they are doing a little bit of fitness.”
However, the very description of a “bit of fitness” was not quite as simple as it would seem as one player admitted that walking football might look easy, and might seem that you do not strain yourself too much because you are walking but players still need to remember that they are stretching muscles they might not have done so in many years, especially kicking the ball or stretching to control. One player told CoreSportGib that indeed he had felt the strain the next days after playing for the first days, and had injured himself, not the injuries you would associate to the other football, but still muscles had been strained and noted. Walking football had proven to be more than just a fun game, it was a very good way of keeping fit, without the need to run and to stretch muscles he had forgotten he had.