Footballer celebrates 88th birthday with kick-a-bout

Bert Cunningham celebrates his 88th birthday with a game of walking football at Meadowbank Stadium. Picture: Andrew O'Brien
Bert Cunningham celebrates his 88th birthday with a game of walking football at Meadowbank Stadium. Picture: Andrew O'Brien
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A DEDICATED football player – possibly the oldest in the country – has put on his shin pads and boots to mark his 88th birthday.

Bert Cunningham celebrated his 88th birthday yesterday by enjoying a stint at his favourite activity – when he took to the pitch for Edinburgh City Walking Football Club.

The birthday boy is a regular player for the club at Meadowbank Sports Centre. Bert has been turning out for Edinburgh City for almost three years and is the oldest player in Scotland, possibly in the UK.

Walking football is aimed at helping people keep active despite their age and fitness. The rules are generally similar to five-a-side football, except that running is not allowed.

Bert became keen about walking football after taking part in a session, and kept coming back for more. He still tries to take part in every weekly session at Meadowbank.

He said: “I saw an advert about a new session starting at Meadowbank in January 2015 so I went along, thoroughly enjoyed the experience and have been a regular ever since, rarely missing the weekly sessions.

“They are a good bunch of lads. We all go for a cup of tea and a good chat after the game which makes it a great social occasion.”

Bert is not looking to hang up his boots just yet and is instead hoping to continue competing for Edinburgh City for “as long as I am physically able”.

He usually takes to the pitch as a goalkeeper, but has also competed as an outfield player.

Bert’s youngest teammate is 54-years-old – a whopping 34 years younger than the birthday boy.

The average age of the Edinburgh City team is around 66 years old.

Bert has been physically active all his life – regularly taking part and competing in football, cricket and athletics.

As a young man, Bert was also a competitive cyclist and he only quit pedalling a few years ago. In his heyday, Bert would average 120 miles per week in the saddle.

He was also heavily involved with the Boys Brigade in several roles including as a physical training instructor, while in his early 40s he took up trampolining and went on to coach the sport for more than 40 years at Meadowbank.

Bert’s teammate, Colin Mackay, praised the birthday boy for setting an example for leading a healthy lifestyle in later life.

He said: “With Meadowbank closing its doors in a few months, Bert will have been one of the few individuals involved with the centre during it’s entire sporting history – an incredible achievement and he is a truly inspirational role model, encouraging older adults to engage in an active, healthy lifestyle.”

Walking Football is one of the fastest-growing sports in the country, with thousands of men and a few women in their 50s, 60s, 70s and even older, playing the game each week. The sport is marketed as “the beautiful game – only a little bit slower”. The Edinburgh City group currently plays at Meadowbank Sports Centre every Thursday from 12.30pm until 2pm.

Newcomers are always welcome to join the club.