"I really can’t emphasise enough just how much fun it is to be out on the pitch again."

Posted: Wednesday 31 July 2019

“I really didn’t expect to be returning to play football at 77 years old,” but that’s exactly what David Golding, a Macular Society Support Group leader, did earlier this year – but with a slightly unusual twist.

David and two members of the Bude and Holsworthy Macular Society Support Group have set up the ‘Holsworthy Has-Beens’, a walking football team which meets every Sunday morning for a friendly kick-about.

Walking football has been taking the nation by storm over the past seven years. It’s one of the fastest growing sports in the UK, especially among the over 70s. It’s estimated there are now more than 1,200 walking football clubs and around 40,000 regularly playing the game.

The rules are simple. To join the Holsworthy Has-Beens, players must be aged 55 and over. On the pitch, no contact is allowed; one foot has to remain on the floor at all times, and as the name suggests, there’s strictly no running.

David says: “Initially, I was trying to find a way to get the group active and do something that would help with everyone’s fitness and wellbeing. It started with three of us from the group and we found there were quite a few people locally who were really keen to start playing again.

“There’s quite a broad range of ages and abilities in the team – our oldest player is 86 and some of the guys have played to quite a high standard. It’s been so much fun; it’s nice to recreate some of that camaraderie you used to feel when you were part of any team in the past. There are so many health benefits, both physical and mental – I personally feel great after I’ve played.”

Ashley Harris, Devon County Football Association’s (FA) disability development officer, has worked closely with David to launch the team and is thrilled to see it going from strength to strength.

Ashley says: “It’s been interesting to work with David to help get the team up and running. Since the team has been established and people have heard about it, we’ve had quite a few people from North Devon getting in touch with us to enquire about walking football.

“We’ve found lots of visually impaired players like to use a different coloured ball, usually bright yellow or pink, as it’s much easier to identify. For the most severely sight-impaired players, there is an audible ball, which has small metal ball bearings inside it and rattles as it moves, or when it makes contact with something.

“And it’s not just for men; there are lots of women’s and mixed teams out there enjoying walking football.”

And David has a message for other Macular Society Support Group members who miss their playing days: “Get in touch with your local FA and see if there’s a walking football team near to you. Or better still, you can do what we’ve done and start your own team. Everyone who plays gets so much enjoyment out of it – I really can’t emphasise enough just how much fun it is to be out on the pitch again.

“It would be great if other Macular Society Support Groups liked the idea and wanted to set up their own teams. The ultimate dream would be to have lots of teams and play some home and away games against each other – how fantastic would that be?”

We have more than 400 local support groups in the UK. Each one offers practical and emotional support for people with macular disease, from those living with it today. Find your local group.