MIDLOTHIAN’s answer to Lionel Messi has been awarded a prestigious walking football award by his hero – Hibs legend Keith Wright.
James Shepherd, a grandfather, was left “shocked” when he was announced as Walking Footballer of the Year at the Bayne Memorial Hall in Loanhead.
The lifelong Hibs fan, from Penicuik, was presented with his accolade by Wright – who was wearing a Santa suit to hide his identity as he arrived at the hall.
The 72 year-old said: “I was so embarrassed when they announced I’d won it, I just didn’t expect it.
“Everyone else is just as good as me.
“For Keith to present me with the award was great, he’s one of my heroes.”
Walking football is a “new sport” aimed at keeping people over the age of 50 fit and involved in football.
Vivian Wallace, who runs the Midlothian Walking Football programme – of which Mr Shepherd is part – said it offers men who thought their best days on the pitch were behind them a slow-paced but exciting route back into sport.
The same rules and techniques apply as normal, however no running is permitted – allowing those who are less mobile to enjoy the game.
Mr Shepherd, a former forester of Penicuik Estate, said: “I’ve played football my whole life and I intend to keep playing in this club for as long as I am able.
“I always dreamed as a youngster of playing at Easter Road one day, and because of the Walking Football team, I’ve had this opportunity and it was great.”
Midlothian’s Walking Football team were the only Scots to attend the International Walking Football Cup in Vilamoura, Portugal, this year.
Ms Wallace said the trip had proved a huge success, and James was voted the best player during his time there.
She said: “The Walking Football Programme has really taken off – we have between 20 and 30 guys who take part now, ranging from the ages of 55 to 84.
“It’s quite a new sport but it’s a great work out for men that age.”
She added: “The friendships that have been built up between the guys are just great.
“The sport is just becoming more and more popular and we are offering it at more venues across Midlothian.”
Wright, who scored in Hibs’ 1991 Skol Cup final win, said he was “delighted” to have presented James’ award.
He said: “I think Jim was a bit shocked. I was delighted to present him with the award because he deserves the credit – he is a regular attender and works hard.”