Walking football competitions are back on again having moved to virtual sessions due to the pandemic, and two Chelsea teams were victorious in a recent tournament which included getting the better of London rivals Arsenal and Tottenham.
Spurs hosted the event with four women’s and four men’s teams of over-50s players. Chelsea’s walking football is organised by the Chelsea Foundation, with training based at Walton in Surrey. Tournaments were a regular part of this activity until Covid interfered.
Participants were still able to join up virtually for over 100 practical sessions during the past year, as well as weekly catch-ups with special visits from Chelsea players past and present, including Chelsea Women’s star Fran Kirby and former Blues Gary Chivers and Claire Rafferty.
After a successful four-week pilot, face-to-face walking football sessions resumed followed by fixtures, and at the tournament in north London, the women’s team played sides from Arsenal, Spurs (whom they beat 4-1), a team called WOTU and then Arsenal again in the final who were defeated 1-0.
The men triumphed by beating Barnet 6-1 in their final having also played Billericay and Watford.
Laura Strong, who scored the winning goal for the women’s team in the final and has also represented England at walking football, explains how the game works.
‘They are strict in tournaments on walking so if a player is caught running, the ball goes to the opposition,’ she begins.
‘It's fast walking, which can look a bit funny. You don't have throw-ins, you kick the ball from the sideline if it goes out or if you play in cages, you just kick off the sideboard. The ball can't go above the height of the goal so you can’t head the ball, therefore it's all about accurate passing because obviously can't run to get the ball.
‘Also, it's supposed to be non-contact and it obviously is now with the pandemic.’
There are Chelsea supporters representing the club at walking football, with one of the players, Dawn Richards, even sporting blue hair to show her allegiance, but importantly, the walking football sessions are all about inclusivity, with players of mixed abilities welcomed and involved.
‘It has brought so much happiness and hope to a lot of people, not just over Covid but prior to that as well’ explains Laura, ‘because it's over-40s and over-50s, and they're even setting up an over-60s team. It just means so much to people.
‘Even though it's walking, and people laugh about it, it's improved the health enormously for a lot of people that come. It is quite energetic trying to walk fast, and a lot of people that have started it, they'd never played football before.’