A Chelsea Foundation walking football team were recently crowned winners of the 2019 Old Stars Walking Football Tournament, overcoming players representing Bruges, Schalke and PSV Eindhoven on route.
The group of eight players along with Foundation staff recently travelled to Belgium to take part in the 2019 Oldstars Cup where they beat S-Sport Brugge, OHL Old Stars and KVVE Massemen to go unbeaten in the group stages.
Teams who finished top of their group then played each other with Chelsea and Club Bruges coming out on top with five points each and the same goal difference meaning a penalty shoot-out would ultimately decide the tournament winners.
With all participants now having eyes on the final and mainly supporting the local club, the Foundation were up against the odds but following a missed penalty from Club Bruges, it was the Blues who claimed victory.
A life-long Chelsea supporter, Mark Blythe takes up a dual role of coach and player and he spoke about his pride at being crowned champions.
He said: ‘To play for the club you have supported all your life is a dream very few realise, to be able to do it when you thought your sporting career was long over is an experience that the Chelsea fans who play can hardly believe.
‘To then win a European tournament is mind blowing. As coach I was so proud of the way the guys played and managed themselves.
‘Naturally everyone wants to beat Chelsea and the intensity against us was so different to the other games we saw teams play, but our players ignored the intensity and rule differences and represented Chelsea in a way that we want to be known for, sporting and quality.’
It has been recently announced that walking football is the fastest growing sport in the country and Mark has seen the positive effect the sport has on people first hand.
‘The game ticks so many boxes to improve the country’s health and wellbeing,’ he added.
‘The number one attribute is it is fun, if it wasn’t folks wouldn’t come back. It is social and reduces isolation, players make new friends instantly, and retirement can mean men in particular don’t get out and lose contact with other people.
‘From meeting at walking football, players now also meet for quiz nights, golf, music nights, watching teams both with partners and alone.
‘I hear about the health benefits every week, people have lost weight, gained confidence, come off the Diabetes danger zone, felt fitter and better.
‘One person has said to me, ‘I now have a purpose, it gets me out of bed and out of the house again’ and another has said ‘I have something to look forward to each week and I have made so many new friends'.'