Walking football is gathering pace.
That’s the message from the game’s pioneer John Croot who played a key part in introducing walking football to the world.
In the 10 years since its official birth in Chesterfield, there now stands more than 1,000 teams and 40,000 players in the UK alone.
While the Proact Stadium recently held the inaugural FIWFA European Nations Cup, which saw England triumph in O50s and O60s age groups.
It was the first tournament of its kind to have national teams made up of players who had been selected through a trials process.
The occasion was an historic one for the town and the game, said John.
“There was a great atmosphere and we got good numbers of spectators coming and going throughout the day,” said John.
“It was a great occasion and for England to win both age groups on home turf created a big buzz.
“I think the fact it was a sport which was created here which gives this tournament a special importance.
“All the players from each country wanted to play here because this is Chesterfield and where the sport started.
“The players from England, Wales and Italy loved the facilities - they thought the stadium was great.”
John, as chief executive of Chesterfield FC Community Trust and non-executive director of the Walking Football Association, has been heavily involved in the game since outlining its rules nearly a decade ago.
Combined efforts between the Trust and Chesterfield Borough Council saw the start of the Senior Spireites - the first recognised walking football club - as part of a health initiative in 2011.
The game was initially introduced to promote activity and provide a social outlet for older people.
While providing the opportunity to continue to play the beautiful game, with Senior Spireites going from strength to strength.
“It’s given people a new lease of life,” said John.
“Different sports are now adopting a walking version, like netball and basketball.
“No end of people tell me they thought that when they’d walked off the pitch at the age of 45 for the last time that was it.
“But now they’re playing the sport they love again.”
And tournaments such as the one held at the Proact have served to raise the profile of the game further.
“The tournament shone a light on walking football,” said John.
“I’ve had people get in touch with me from different countries wanting to know more about walking football.
“We were able to put messages of encouragement on there for people to join their local walking football team wherever they live.
“The health benefits are fantastic and at the end of the day that’s the main point, certainly from a community trust point of view.
“I had people coming up to me saying ‘it’s great this game was started here in Chesterfield and it’s changed my life’.”
The sociable side of the game was evident with a gala dinner at the Proact following the tournament, with around 150 in attendance.
“The sport will only grow,” he added.
And, with the WFA in discussions to hold the first walking football world cup on English shores next year, the game shows no signs of slowing down.
- To find out more about walking football visit thewfa.co.uk, find your local club through www.walkingfootball.com or see what the Senior Spireites have been up to at www.chesterfieldwalkingfootball.co.uk.