Game On! Walking Football with an England Manager!
It's not every day that you can say you trained and played football with an England manager - but that's what players from around the UK, including from Fighting Fit Football, did this weekend!
We were privileged to be joined by Stuart Langworthy - England Manager for the over 60s Men's Walking Football Team and Assistant Manager for the over 40s England Women's Walking Football Team - on 15th May 2021 where he put a large group of players with Parkinson's though their paces at Watford FC's fantastic training dome. We were joined by players from across the South East, Birmingham and even as far as South Wales for an enjoyable afternoon learning about the rules of walking football and playing the game.
Despite this being the first time for many playing the walking version of the game (myself included), all the players grasped the rules very quickly and after a short warm up and a series of passing drills, we were divided into 3 teams for the start of the matches. I had been warned before the event that I would cover a fair bit of ground that day, but as someone used to playing 5 and 7 a-side football I have to admit I was a little sceptical about this (we'll come back to that later...)!
Warming up for the matches
The teams played each other in a round robin of refereed matches of 10 minutes each, keeping the rules simple to start with and eventually progressing to a 3 touch rule for the final set of games. The improvement from the first to last whistle was remarkable to see with the players quickly establishing tactics and making changes to improve their game, including ensuring the game play was stretched rather than bunched together in order to create space and passing opportunities. It was tempting to chase the ball down but I soon realised that I couldn't play this in the way I do for 5 or 7 a-side matches.
During the matches the main challenge for most players was how to avoid running - my initial steps often imitated a jog before remembering that one foot had to remain on the floor at all times when moving. Either that or face the wrath (albeit humorous wrath) of Andy the ref, and giving away an indirect free kick in the process. But Andy kept us on our toes, guiding us when we went wrong, and we soon adapted our game for the better.
The other challenge I found was correct ball placement during a passing move - with running football the ball is often passed with pace in front of the receiving player's run, but with walking football it often needed to be direct to feet or, if in advance of the player, with less pace. I often found that it took a minute or so to adjust my game play following the kick-off of a new match, but we all got their in the end, and some. By the final game, with a three touch rule in place, we were witnessing some lovely one or two touch passing and game play. Credit to everyone involved.
After a throughly enjoyable afternoon, nursing my tired feet at home, I soon realised that I had covered a considerable amount of ground that day - over 11.5km and 14,500 steps to be precise - admittedly not all from football - but it was no wonder I was shattered that evening. At Fighting Fit Football's training on the following Monday involving a 7-aside match, although comparable, I didn't actually beat the steps target I had achieved playing walking football. So I can happily confirm that walking football lives up to its name!
My "spaghetti" heat map of the matches inside the Dome taken from my fitness app
The purpose of the day, aside from encouraging people with Parkinson's to try a new sport, was to generate interest in creating a south of England Parkinson's walking football team to play in an exhibition match against a similar team from the north of England at Sport Parkinson's Summer Try-Athlon event.
This is a multi sports community event for people with Parkinson's due to be held at the Worcester Warriors' Sixways Stadium on 24th July 2021, and will bring the Parkinson's community together for a day or exercise, fun and activities. As well as a walking football the Summer Try-Athlon will also host the Cure Parkinsons Cup as the finale of the day bringing 5 a-side Parkinson's teams together for a competitive event, the first of its kind in the UK. If you are interested in joining us for either walking or 5 a-side football then please check our Events page or visit www.sportparkinsons.org for more information.