The Covid-19 pandemic brought about the suspension of Chelsea Foundation walking football sessions, but the Foundation found a new and invaluable way to engage with our participants during this time.
Due to the coronavirus outbreak, people were asked to follow government guidelines and stay home to help control the virus which meant that the Foundation’s weekly sessions had to temporarily come to a stop.
However, this did not mean our interaction with our participants came to an end with Foundation staff quickly moving the weekly sessions for our male and female walking footballers online.
The weekly get-togethers proved crucial for morale during lockdown and even included appearances from past and present Chelsea stars including Pat Nevin, Fran Kirby and Claire Rafferty, ensuring the participants still felt connected to the club.
One participant who has been attending the online sessions is men’s walking footballer Vernon Ray, and he tells us how the sessions have helped him during what has been a difficult time for the life-long Chelsea supporter.
He said: ‘I managed to contract the virus just before the lockdown along with fellow walking footballers.
‘It took differing degrees of severity with five of us getting it pretty badly.
‘Over the last 12 weeks or so the weekly/daily Zoom meetings we have taken part in have been invaluable.
‘For myself being a lifelong Chelsea fan and season ticket holder for over 30 years, the weekly Chelsea chats with various ex-players has been such a lift.
He added: ‘I feel giving your time is the greatest commodity one can offer.
‘Chelsea have done this this in abundance with ex-players, coaches, and staff and to me that speaks volumes.
‘The caring and thoughtfulness of all involved has meant the world to me.’
On Friday, the 50th video call took place with walking football co-ordinator Mark Blythe explaining the significance of the work for participants who rely on the sessions.
He said: ‘The feedback from the walking footballers has been incredible.
‘Some have felt so isolated and it’s been the only time they have spoken to someone.
‘It’s the highlight of my week and the goodwill generated towards Chelsea has been immense, irrespective of which club the folks support.
‘I’m not sure which has been the most well received, the Nike football and cones, the skills sessions, the sports quiz verses Man City, the mental health support or having the ex-pros come on and chat.
‘Different things appeal to different people and some have been on practically every session.
‘There has been so much laughter but also deep personal feelings and concerns shared.
‘That can be unusual for males but the trust and friendships built up through these Chelsea zooms has enabled these guys to pull together and through this difficult time.’