Genteel walking football games kick off in Doncaster

NDFP Primetime walkers football Ron Sprakes
NDFP Primetime walkers football Ron Sprakes

Deep within the main sports hall of The Dome, a group of men in their 50s and 60s are caught up in a fierce tussle.

The air is filled with cries of team-mates calling out names, the distinctive thud of trainers connecting with a leather sphere and the unmistakable sound of celebration when the net bulges with another goal.

A game of football, the nation’s favourite sport, is in progress. But this is no ordinary match.

Welcome to the world of walking football, a more genteel way of playing the globe’s most popular pastime.

Brought to nationwide attention earlier this year courtesy of a bank advert, the game is rapidly gaining in popularity across the country. As the name implies, there’s no running allowed, no tackling and the ball can’t go above head height - so no route one football here.

All of which go into making it an ideal way of helping keep fit and active among the older, less mobile population and those suffering from social isolation. Aimed at the over 50s, The Dome’s Primetimers sessions have only just, excuse the pun, kicked off and are already scoring success.

Steve Parkin, 54, is among the growing band of devotees lining up for the games, which take part of a wider keep fit session, every Monday morning at the venue.

He says: “It keeps everyone fit and happy. Not only is it a chance for people to have a game of football, but to socialise and meet others too.”

The sessions are under the watchful eye of former England and Doncaster Belles ace Jan Milner, 59, whose own career in the game came to and end in 2003 after a knee replacement operation.

She says: “Football is the most wonderful game in the world and I have been involved in it for a long, long time. It brings people together and you can feel the energy and buzz in the room when a game is taking place.

“It is all about creating friendships as well as sharing memories and creating new ones. Football is in my blood and its great to get people out enjoying it again when some of them haven’t kicked a football in more than 30 years.

“Its great on a number of levels for me. I can’t run anymore but it means I can still have a game of football and enjoy myself.

“But its very rewarding running the sessions too and bringing people together. We are aiming at people who wouldn’t necessarily think of playing and getting them out and about meeting others.”

Naturally, the only way to get a taste is to swap my suit for trainers - and after clinching a hat-trick, including a last-gasp equaliser in a pulsating 5-5 draw - its easy to see the appeal.

There’s no painful injuries, no tapped ankles - but you do work up a bit of a sweat - and reining in the urge to chase after a ball that’s just tantalisingly out of reach is a difficult one to curb.

The sessions, organised by Doncaster Culture and Leisure Trust in conjunction with charities Sue Ryder Care and Age UK, are open to women too - and if playing still seems a little too strenuous, the classes also include a ‘Football Reminisce’ group where people can swap and share memories of games watched and played with archive footage of some of the game’s golden greats.

Jon Whiteley, head of community development at DCLT adds: “The town’s older folk are already enjoying activities including badminton, swimming and tai chi thanks to Primetimers so we’re sure walking football will be another popular addition to the activities on offer.

“We hope people aged 50 or over in Doncaster who love football and spending time with friends old and new will come and visit us at The Dome and support this new venture.”

And if the venture takes off, there are plans to create football leagues, with games against fellow walking football clubs from across South Yorkshire in the pipeline.

Added Jan: The Primetimers sessions take place at The Dome every Monday from 10am to 2pm with games getting under way at 11.30pm. All are welcome.