Hibs introduce new '˜walking football' sessions

For years, players have been taunted for walking the ball into the net.

Saturday, 1st September 2018, 6:00 am
Updated Tuesday, 4th September 2018, 2:22 am
Colin Mackay.
Colin Mackay.

But one of the fastest growing forms of the beautiful game positively encourages it.

Now an Edinburgh club has become the latest in Scotland to launch free walking football sessions.

Hibs are hoping to score with their new tasters by getting more people into the beautiful game.

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Walking Football is the slower version of the game, designed to help people kick-start or keep up an active lifestyle, as well as getting those who had to stop due to injuries back playing football.

The sport has seen a surge in popularity in recent years with teams and projects developing in football clubs, local authorities, community groups and sports clubs.

Since it started in 2012 the version of the game has mainly been aimed at keeping people aged over 50 involved with football if they are not able to play the traditional game.

On the pitch the same rules apply but with walking football it’s mostly non-contact and only walking is allowed – no jogging, running or sprinting.

With the new sessions Hibernian’s charitable arm, the Community Foundation, hopes to get people from all walks of life into the game, whether they stopped playing due to injury or just prefer to have a kickabout at an easier pace.

Gary Hocknull, Football Development Manager at the Community Foundation said, “We hope the sessions will keep walking football busy and relevant. Football isn’t only for young, fit people or professional players. These sessions are about making football available to all, including those of us who are slowing down, as well as younger ones or even those who have injuries or illnesses.”

Hibs first offered taster sessions last year and now, thanks to funding from the Scottish Football Association and Mars Just Play, they are starting up again in a fresh bid to get scores of people in Edinburgh onto the pitch.

To deliver the sessions the Foundation has teamed up with The Changing Room, a Hibs football mental health project encouraging middle age men to open up.

Neil Lennon, Hibernian head coach, who has spoken out about his own struggles with depression, kicked off The Changing Room initiative at Easter Road in April.

The initiative is run between mental health charity Scottish Association for Mental Health (SAMH), the Scottish Professional Football League (SPFL) Trust and Hibs.

Changing Room encourages men to come together and support each other, as well as smash stigma around mental health.

Official figures show men are two-and-a half times more likely than women to die by suicide each year with the biggest group at risk being men in their forties and early fifties.

After a successful Changing Room pilot with a group of 14 men, Hibs are now planning to work directly with the group to keep up their interest in the game through their Walking Football sessions.

Gary said, “It’s an effective way to encourage older men to take up an activity that brings huge benefits for both physical and mental health and helps tackle isolation. Walking football is a great fit for our Changing Rooms project.”

Kicking off this month with three trial sessions, the Foundation also plans to target Walking Football at veterans initially and then cast the net wider.

Gary said, “We want to engage with different groups and show them that walking football is worthwhile. It’s coming into a league of its own. Recently, one of our volunteer coaches took on a role as a paid coach and he is making links with the veterans community. He is ex-Army and keen to introduce ex-servicemen to the benefits and the sense of community and camaraderie that walking football can bring.”

Walking football started in Scotland in 2012 with early games in Midlothian and in Tranent through the Hibs Fit Fans in Training programme. In less than four years it has become one of the fasting growing sports in the country.

There are now over 65 groups with around 1800 players, covering most regions with an age range from early 40s to late 80s. Many of the groups, like Edinburgh Spartans FC, welcome people with disabilities, dementia, and those recovering from major illnesses

The sport is so popular that a national annual tournament sees over thirty teams competing for the Cup. There’s also a monthly National League, with over a dozen teams competing including three from Edinburgh.

The Hibs free sessions will be held at World of Football, near Cramond beach, and kick off is on September 26.