You’ll Never Walk Alone: Ageing footballers in tune with new game plan

Adam Keizer outlines the rules to a group of players. Photo: Star Media
Adam Keizer outlines the rules to a group of players. Photo: Star Media
The traditional pre-game walk-through plays out differently at English Park on Saturday mornings, where a new initiative is encouraging football players past their prime to still target goals.

Aiming at the over-50s age group, Mainland Football launched Walking Football last weekend, where drizzle did not deter 20 pedestrian players from making a tentative debut.

While the code’s game plan is to attract and retain juniors plus broaden its appeal to females and ethnic groups, there is still a position on the field for the dodgy-kneed striker to relive past glories over an hour.

Stan Woolliscroft, 71, cycled from St Martins to the city’s football headquarters in St Albans before going through warm-up drills and a five, six or seven-a-side game.

A former national league player for New Brighton and Christchurch United in the 1970s, the midfielder happily added a walkabout with his fitness regime after discovering the format online.

“It’s good to be back at English Park, I haven’t been on it for a long time” Woolliscroft said, before venturing onto the pitch for the first time since 1981.

Back then his game time could be limited.

“United had (1982 World Cup All Whites) Bobby Almond, Steve Sumner, they had a hell of a team. I spent most of the season here,” he smiled, while sitting in the stand which now bears Sumner’s name.

Darren Booth does some pre-game stretches in the stand at English Park. Photo: Star Media
Darren Booth does some pre-game stretches in the stand at English Park. Photo: Star Media
Team numbers are fluid, there is no restriction on substitutions, no extra time or penalty shootouts.

The offside rule is waived but rules are enforced for games played on a sector of a regulation-sized field.

There’s no breaking into a run, no headers, no studs-up two-footed lunges, in fact no tackling at all, with interceptions or a poor touch the only means of gaining possession.

And there is another twist, though hopefully not an ankle.

“We’re aiming towards the over-50s age group but it’s open to anyone,” said Mainland Football community development officer Adam Keizer, an Englishman from Burnley who supports West Ham.

“In England we had people in their 30s that played because they’d had surgery on their knees or something and they couldn’t play competitive, contact sport.”

The inaugural group’s age range was 50 to 77, and included three women. Just the line-up Mainland Football hoped to start.

“The health benefits are obviously the cardio side of things but if you’re going for a walk, you’re walking in a straight line at the same time,” Keizer said.

Jeff Waghorn runs past Stan Woolliscroft. Photo: Star Media
Jeff Waghorn runs past Stan Woolliscroft. Photo: Star Media
“This is raising up the heart rate and dropping it up and down and there’s agility movement, it’s balance, coordination and flexibility as well as your core strengths, all key things for this age group.

“The health benefits are massive but bigger than that in the well-being part of it, being part of a team, having a laugh and a bit of banter.

“The beauty of it is you can turn up wearing whatever you like,” he said, pointing out a player in jeans and hiking boots.

Jeff Waghorn was among players wearing traditional playing strips as he and 10 mates from Halswell limbered up.

The sweeper started playing football at age seven, with the game a constant until he was sidelined by a hip injury.

He was unable to play for two years before a hip replacement last March and he was relishing the chance to make a comeback at 65.

“I’ve been playing my whole life, this is a great opportunity to socialise with mates you’ve played with for years,” he said.

“I thought I’d give this a go now I can walk again.”

•Players keen to walk instead of run can turn up at English Park on Saturday around 10am and register to play

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