As World Cup fever intensifies, former investigative journalist BOB HAYWOOD reveals an unlikely side to the beautiful game – walking football.
I never thought I’d be 74 before scoring my first double hat-trick in a competitive football match.
But I did!
I started playing football 50 years ago and I can’t recall notching up too many single hat-tricks, even though I was a striker.
In truth, I wasn’t very good. Well, I did go to a rugby-playing school.
But I’ve finally found my niche . . . in walking football.
Before you start chuckling, it’s a darned sight more energetic, competitive and skilful than you might think.
And there isn’t a lot of walking going on, either.
In my younger days, I played 11-a-side parks league football for Warley Press FC and later Birmingham Press FC.
But my not-so-glittering ‘career’ came to a catastrophic end in 1984 when I suffered a double-fracture of my right leg in an over-the-top tackle.
It was 12 months before I fully recovered. By then, I was 40 and I knew I would never play football again.
Or so I thought . . . !
In 2014, I joined Hartshill Strollers Walking Football Club in Dudley which had just started with just four members and now has nearly 70 members – aged from 50 to 86.
I went on to become club vice chairman, assistant manager and Press officer, and I now manage the club’s Over 65 team.
I play twice a week, for an hour, year-round, outdoor on a 3G all-weather pitch at Summerhill School, Kingswinford.
My six-goal bonanza in a single match came in the inaugural walking football tournament organised by The Albion Foundation – the community arm of West Bromwich Albion FC – on 28 June 2018.
Meanwhile, Hartshill Strollers Over 65s have reached the Central regional final of the Walking Football Association (WFA) National Cup 2018 – WF’s equivalent of the FA Cup.
The crunch match will be played later in the summer. Our opponents – and the venue and date of the match - have yet to be decided.
Walking football – mainly for the Over 50s - is one of the fastest-growing sports in Britain. More than 1,000 clubs are affiliated to the WFA in England alone, with another 250 in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
Around 35,000 men – and women – play on a regular basis in the UK.
Many professional football clubs are now involved in WF, as are top stars of the past, including Alan Kennedy, ex-Liverpool, Newcastle United and England; and Brian Kilcline, captain of Coventry City’s 1987 FA Cup-winning team.
A walking football European Cup will be staged next year and a World Cup in 2020.
Walking football (WF) is normally played on a five-a-side pitch, with five-a-side goals.
Teams are normally six- or seven-a-side; running is supposedly banned as is robust tackling; the ball must stay below head height (so no heading); and neither attackers nor defenders are allowed into the penalty areas.
Infringements lead to the awarding of a free kick – and, for repeat offending, a sin-binning, or even a sending off.
The trick is to play to feet, pass in triangles, and always keep on the move. It is very energetic, highly skilful – and fiercely competitive.
Well, it is the way we play it!
Walking football has become a big part of my life in retirement. I’m fit and healthy. You should give it a try.
Bob Haywood started in journalism as a cub reporter on the Smethwick Telephone in 1960. He later worked for the Express & Star and the Birmingham Mail.
In 1985, he became news editor of the Sunday Mercury in Birmingham.
He won many awards, mainly for investigative reporting, including being named Journalist of the Year in the BT Midlands Press & Broadcasting Awards in 1999 and in 2000, and was also named Trinity Mirror Reporter of the Year in 1999.
Bob took early retirement from the Sunday Mercury in 2003, at the age of 59, but continued to work for the paper as a freelance until 2016.