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Meet the walking footballers on the ball in Bramley Park every week

Words and photos: John Baron

It was the morning of the England against Scotland game at the European Championships – but everyone on Bramley Park that sunny morning knew it wasn’t going to be the biggest match of the day.

The walking footballers from Bramley Walking Wanderers were taking to the pitch for their regular Friday morning kickabout and get together – a group full of excitement and energy which belied their senior years.

Bramley Walking Wanderers is open to people of all ages and abilities. Photo: John Baron

The group is made up of people who are mostly aged over 50 years old, which suits the walking pace of the game.

It quickly becomes apparent that the sessions aren’t just about sport. They’re about community, which mean socialising, making friends, keeping well and having a laugh – as well as keeping fit.

Joy is on the ball inn Bramley Park. Photo: John Baron

Joy is 69 and is a star striker, today sporting the number nine shirt. She attends every week and is often at the front of the pack when it comes to the pre-match gentle exercise regime. She said:

“I first started coming before all the lockdown started. It’s good fun, you get to meet people and have a laugh and it helps keep you fit and active.

“People of all ages and abilities come, both men and women. You don’t have to be good, just be willing to join in and have fun.

“I enjoy the games – I used to play when I was younger – but really it’s about the people, they’re a good bunch who come.”

During lockdown Joy received a tablet and help and support to get online and stay connected with the group as part of a Leeds University initiative. She is now confident on e-mail and Youtube.

Gordon won the goal of the match award and Dolores was woman of the match. Photo: John Baron

Another gentleman, in his 70s, has been coming since the sessions first started back in 2019. He added:

“I’m not very good but that doesn’t matter, it’s a fun workout and it keeps me active. It’s good to get me out of the house, get active and meet people. I look forward to it every week, these people are like a family to me.”

In safe hands: The goalie looks on as the game kicks off. Photo: John Baron

Another woman said that the group continued to meet over Zoom during lockdown, and that doing the quizzes and socials online were a ‘Godsend’ amid the isolation.

Tony Mullin, from an organisation called Your Backyard, runs the walking football, which is free and meets every Friday morning at 10am.

He’s encouraging more people to get involved and would love to see several pitches full of walking footballers each week. Your Backyard also runs the free walking netball sessions in Bramley Park on a Wednesday morning and online tai chi, zumba and dance classes – some of which have 40-50 people attending each time.

Gentle walking exercises before the game. Photo: John Baron

Bramley & Stanningley councillors Jools Heselwood and Kevin Ritchie both attended the session and took part in both the warm ups and the match itself. Cllr Heselwood said:

“It’s great to see people of all ages and abilities coming together. You can be any level of fitness. The social side is so important, it brings people together in a safe setting and benefits both your physical and mental health.”

It’s Councillor Ritchie vs Councillor Heselwood in the warm up. Who do you think won? Photo: John Baron

Cllr Ritchie added that it was good to see people starting to use the park again for events like this as lockdown restrictions ease.

The football is run in partnership with Bramley Elderly Action.

Pre-match exercises warm you up – and use muscles which might not otherwise be used. Photo: John Baron

What is walking football?

Walking football is an adapted version of football, designed to be inclusive and accessible to people aged over 50, whilst still being just as fun as the beautiful game! There is no running allowed, and some other rules prevent the ball from going too high, and anyone from getting injured.

Walk this way – getting set for a walking football match at Bramley Park. Photo: John Baron

Who can get involved?

Anyone aged over 50 living in the Bramley area. You don’t have to be a member of Bramley Elderly Action, and the sessions are open to all genders and physical abilities. If you have concerns about whether or not you will be physically able to take part, please get in contact with Your Back Yard using the details below for a Physical Activity Readiness Questionnaire.

How can I get involved?

If you’re interested in coming along, please call Your Back Yard on  0113 229 0260 or sign up for the email newsletter here.

Read a match report from a recent Bramley Walking Wanderers game here.

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