History Of Walking Football
Walking football started in Chesterfield in 2011, since then it has grown widely in popularity with several hundred clubs/teams now playing in the UK. It is intended for people over 50 years of age to provide exercise and health benefits. At Walton we wanted to help create new friendships and community groups and to bring us back to the beautiful game many of us stopped playing decades ago. Ladies football was just a dream then, now pro clubs have massive support and this has spread into local clubs, we are of course blessed with our own Sally, the first regular to join our ranks.
In the early summer of 2014 Paul Cudmore from Surrey FA approached Mark Blythe to help get the game started in Walton. Paul assisted Mark in this aspect and was present at our games for several weeks before handing over the reins to Mark. Initial attendances were pretty low but we soon built up momentum and these improved after a few weeks, thanks to the help of Surrey FA and the famous Barclays TV advert which attracted much interest locally (& nationally). Pioneers of the game here were Geoff Singh, Dennis Thompson & Martin Kelly followed soon after by John Davis, Larry Dann and others, and very soon afterwards we had about 20 players initially playing on the 3G pitch outdoors. During our first winter however games were played indoors, but numbers began increasing and by March 2015 we were “put out to grass” we have been there ever since.
In November 2014 Surrey FA held the first ever Walking Football Tournament in Surrey, played indoors here at Xcel Walton. 10 teams competed from Sutton Croydon Waddon Wimbledon Woking Caterham Guildford & Epsom, we entered 2 teams. The final was contested by Walton & Croydon with Walton winning the inaugural trophy 4-2. Mark asked me if I would like to collect the trophy and I was delighted until the moment arrived, then a swift move by our esteemed Italian International beat me to it, the trophy has not been seen since.
Walton again ended up as Surrey Walking Football Champions with a repeat performance in 2015, this time played outdoors we beat rivals Caterham in the final, on penalties.
Our successes had been recognised widely and invitations to play other teams began to come in, due in part to Mark’s community work as a Sports Chaplain. So we were on the walking football map. Friendly games were held at Walton with Cove & Bracknell visiting.
Our Thursday morning sessions became more and more popular, these are considered informal, fun sessions and remain exactly that today with those expressing an interest in competitions chosen to represent our “team” at Xcel Walton.
In January 2016 we commenced with our weekly Monday evening sessions, these are now an addition to our portfolio and now becoming more and more popular, so get along and give it a try if you are interested. We have 2 pitches and play between 8pm and 9pm.
In 2015 we were invited to submit nominations for the Elmbridge Sports Awards, we entered into two categories. It was an honour to be present at the awards ceremony especially as our leader Mark was presented with the Senior Sports Personality Award. A deserved success in my opinion having done so much for walking football here in Walton, and worthy recognition for bringing together a fine group of people through his passion for sport. Further success was to come when Xcel Walton Walking Football Team received runners up in the Team Award. So we added two more trophies to our collection.
Back to Football:
A tragedy in June 2015 hit home when a player from Sutton United Walking Football Team lost his life whilst relaxing on the beach in Tunisia , he was shot dead. That day 38 people died at the hands of terrorists. To recognise this very sad event Sutton United FC held a “Community Open Day” walking football tournament with funds going to the family of the deceased. Walton again succeeded beating Caterham in the final and lifting the COD Cup, but somehow this event put life into perspective.
Or was it Rugby:
During the Rugby Union World Cup Finals in 2015 we had the pleasure of hosting a visit of the Fiji International Rugby Team who were based locally for the finals, we enjoyed a fun day with these gentle giants from the South Sea Islands.
Word was spreading throughout Europe that walking football was an exciting new outlet for fun and fitness, also for bringing people together. The Swiss wanted to know just what it was all about so we hosted a visit from Swiss TV and filming took place on our usual Thursday morning session, with extracts from our games televised on Swiss National TV. Larry raved about his new found fitness in an interview, the presenter was really impressed.
In 2016 Surrey FA launched Surrey Walking Football League with teams from within the County competing together. With the season almost over Xcel Walton are in second place in the over 50’s league behind arch rivals Caterham, whilst the over 60’s are currently third in their league. Games conclude at Sutton United on 6th June, however we cannot improve on our league positions.
Also in 2016 Mark was involved with others in forming a London Pro Clubs League with entries from communities representing QPR Fulham Orient Watford West Ham and little Excel Walton. Two recent successes against Orient and Watford have really rocked the boat, some of these clubs have sponsorship from their parent clubs and they have professional coaches but we are holding our own!
We have been represented 3 successive years at The Mayor of Bournemouth’s Annual Charity Tournament reaching the semi-finals in 2015, we won the trophy in 2016 and this year we lost out to some strong teams including our own Dave Pooley’s Pompey Blues.
Woking FC “Football in the Community” Tournament was launched in 2015, again we have been represented 3 successive years without any real success, but this year we were really unfortunate to lose out on penalties in the semi-finals having not conceded a single goal in the qualifying rounds.
Our incredible journey has taken us to the top of the English Football League, with tournaments at Craven Cottage Fulham, The Emirates Stadium Complex in London and the Etihad Stadium Complex in Manchester, so we have travelled far and we have travelled well. Our home football sessions now attract over 50 players each Thursday and over 20 each Monday evening. We have a new stadium recently completed alongside Xcel Walton so who knows where our incredible journey will take us in future!
Albufiera Walking Football Cup.
In March 2016 we had 18 players (2 teams) travel to The Algarve competing against 10 teams from Portugal and the UK, coming runners up and third bringing home 2 trophies. This was such a success we travelled again in March, this year with 26 players (3 teams). With more teams involved we had success winning the Plate Final bringing home yet another trophy to Walton, a magnificent all round effort and so much fun to share a holiday in warm sunshine with new found friends.
Who would have thought that we as a unit, a team of players from all walks of life could achieve so much in so little time, both in competitions and in our weekly and hugely enjoyable sessions.
We have bonded so well together, we have enjoyed social events, quizzes, Christmas parties, and importantly made lots of new friends all of which we must recognise and celebrate as a success, so take a bow folks, you are indeed “Xcel Walton’s Walking Football Champions”.