The Covid-19 pandemic brought about the suspension of Chelsea Foundation walking football sessions, but that didn’t stop walking football coordinator Mark Blythe bringing our male and female groups together during this unprecedented time.
That incredible and dedicated work from Mark has not gone unnoticed and on Thursday evening he was highlighted during BBC’s One Show as one of their Lockdown Heroes.
Prior to the pandemic, Mark headed up walking football sessions for men and women, with the aim of encouraging older people to get back into sport in a fun, friendly and non-competitive environment which in turn helped to improve their mental and physical well-being, leading to new friendships and social interactions.
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, but this did not mean our interaction with our participants came to an end with Mark quickly moving the weekly sessions for our male and female walking footballers online.
Isolated, loneliness and poor mental health are a few of many potential impacts of the country going into lockdown, but Mark dedicated his time to ensure that all participants had the opportunity to communicate with others and still feel connected to the club with the incorporation of exercise to keep them active.
As shown on the BBC One Show on Thursday evening, Mark was surprised at Stamford Bridge as participants came together to say thank you for all the work he has done during the pandemic, while former Blues Joe Cole, Gary Chivers and Ken Monkou also delivered ‘well done’ messages for his well-deserved ‘Lockdown Hero’ achievement.
Speaking on his surprise at the Bridge, he said: ‘I was expecting to be coaching some of the academy lads on the pitch, which was special in itself, but I walked out of the tunnel and I could hear my name booming over the tannoy.
‘I still can’t believe what’s just happened. I’ve seen that segment of the One Show and when she started talking I knew what was happening. When the videos started of the team I was a wreck.
‘It was really hard watching and hearing the messages. I’m not used to taking compliments and it was very difficult.
‘I don’t feel like I do anything special. I just coach people, chat with them, give them time and do what I love doing with them – that’s not special.
‘But, for some reason these guys have chosen to give me this amazing experience.’
The weekly get-togethers organized by Mark have proved crucial for morale during lockdown and even included appearances from past and present Chelsea stars including Pat Nevin, Fran Kirby and Claire Rafferty.
Two participants who have been attending the online sessions are women’s walking footballers Sheila Richards and Sharon Meek. They nominated Mark for the BBC One Show Lockdown Hero and they spoke about how the sessions have helped them prior to and during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Sheila, who has been attending the walking football sessions for two years, said: ‘He has gone over and above during lockdown, especially for those who live on their own.
‘Before lockdown, walking football was their only outlet for socialising and exercising, and when that had to stop it had a big impact on their lives.
‘Mark made sure that he was communicating with us all during that time through – including everyone in everything.’
Sharon said: ‘When I’m playing I feel part of a team. I’ve made a lot of new friends and socially it’s really good.
‘It’s good for my mental health and wellbeing, as well as physically.
‘When you get older you need something to look forward to and motivate you to get out into the fresh air. It’s a really positive thing.’