It is football by step and it is not a bench joke. «Walking Football», even in English for now, is slow football, a sport for those who want to stay active and have fun playing even when the body no longer allows for great adventures. It already has thousands of practitioners across Europe, it is taking its first steps in Portugal – pass the easy pun – and in England it even started to have official rules.
It was through the Algarve that you came here. In English, through Walking Football Algarve, an organization that was born two years ago and promoted the formation of several centers of the sport throughout the region, as well as some international duels. Like this, one of the first.
The names of the teams play with what they represent. People who have passed middle age but continue to enjoy playing football. Staying healthy. That’s what explains to the Morefootball Chris Wright, 71-year-old Englishman who retired to the Algarve in 2005 and lives in Olhão. In fact, he adopted Olhanense and is part of a club in the Algarve formed by British people living in the region: the «Gorilas» of Olhão. You can see them here.
In that poster there are several things that stand out, in addition to the well-intentioned attempt to write in Portuguese, and one of them is the name of John Mortimore.
Yes, explains Chris. «John Mortimore, former Benfica coach, is my friend. He sponsored our first tournament and sponsors the annual tournament. » And play, Mortimore? «Do not play, no. He is 82 years old. »
«How to be a child again»
He does not play Mortimore, but among the regular “stars” of Walking Football in the Algarve is former English player Brian Kilcline, captain of the Coventry team who won the FA Cup in 1987 in a final with Tottenham, and who currently spends most of of your time in the Algarve. Now 54, Kilcline says he has rediscovered the pleasure of playing. «Obviously it is a slower game, but it is very energetic and competitive. Playing “walking football” is like being a child again, “Kilcline told the British newspaper” Birmingham Mail “.
Who better than an old player to describe this new sport? Then I would say to Kilcline: “Since I retired I had not played football since the age of 11. But this gave me a new lease of life. I recommend it to anyone. It is a form of football that brings us back to the essentials: controlling the ball and passing it from foot to foot. Not just throw it across the field and hope it goes well. And I love the teasing between players. That has always been part of football. »
Chris Wright’s definition complements the concept: “It is slowing down the game for everyone, for people over 50 to play football. It is very good for the cardiovascular. Doctors approve. There are people who come to practice after an operation on the heart. It is very good for maintaining activity. »
The descriptions already fit some of the specific rules of Walking Football. Rule number 1: it is forbidden to run. One foot must always be touching the ground. Then there is usually a limit to the number of hits each player can pass before passing the ball. Nor can it be played above a certain height, for some above the waist, for others over the head. It also tries to avoid physical contact. For the rest, there is game, enthusiasm and goals.
And you basically train yourself to play, explains Chris. «There is a mini-tournament in every session. Trainings are games. We have a warm-up period, then play and stay active. ” And there are also referees: “The referee is chosen from among us. Usually someone who is already in his 80s …. Sometimes we have one on the field and another on the sideline. » Teams can be mixed, bringing together men and women.
Walking Football was born in England six years ago, an initiative of the Chesterfield FC Community Trust, a social organization associated with Chesterfield. Since then it has been growing, a lot in England but also a little throughout Europe. In the Algarve it started in 2015 and now it is also played in Lisbon, organized by the Benfica Foundation.
«In England there are more than 800 teams. We started here in Portugal two years ago. We now have groups in Olhão, Tavira, São Brás, Vilamoura and Lagos », says Chris Wright. The Algarve club also organizes international tournaments, there will be one in March in Albufeira, and takes advantage of each occasion to compete: “The Tottenham legends also come here regularly, in charity initiatives, and whenever they come we play against them.”
There are still not many Portuguese to join, says Chris. «We have some, we would like to have more. But in addition to the English, we have Germans, Dutch, several nationalities. We usually have 30 people in each session. »
At Luz, to promote active aging
Walking Football Algarve is now in contact with the Benfica Foundation, which promotes sessions at Estádio da Luz, in an initiative that emerged from a European project with a network of clubs that develop social projects. «Walking Football comes with us following a project with the European Football Development Network, where we have 13 more clubs. It is in the area of social responsibility, a response in the area of active aging », he explains to the Morefootball Nuno Costa, from the Benfica Foundation.
“We are developing regular sessions with the Foundation’s partners at Estádio da Luz, in the synthetic, to do this job of avoiding some isolation and achieving greater inclusion of people in active life, improving health and also the social aspect”, he continues. At this time, half a hundred people participate in these sessions, users of various institutions. Some of these players will participate in a tournament in the Netherlands in September.
The first initiative promoted in Luz under this project was a game to which former players, Veloso, Stefan Schwarz or Paulo Madeira, were invited last September.
But this is still a slow start, notes Nuno Costa. «We are still in a very embryonic phase, especially in Portugal. The only club to practice that we are aware of is Walking Football Algarve, we have already started contacts with them. European partners can easily get together, several Dutch clubs can get together to play and socialize. We in Portugal are a bit isolated. »
Official rules and “Laws of the game”
Nor is it easy to establish the rules themselves, he adds. Yes, that is one of the issues surrounding sport, there are several different guidelines on some of the specific regulations. “There is even a difference in terms of rules between those who play the most in the British zone and those who play in Germany or the Netherlands. Differences such as whether or not there is contact, or more practical things. The general rule is that the ball must not pass above the waist. But, for example, when a ball kicked by one player hits another and rises above that line, whose fault is it? »
It was to try to come up with ideas on the subject that the English Federation (FA) decided to formalize a book of regulations for Walking Football. He had already stated his intention and this week announced that the “Laws of the Game” of Walking Football were ready. It includes principles such as the definition of “walking” and the penalty for those who run, which is the award of a free kick to the opponent. Also the ban on the ball rising above the height of the head (defined as 1.83m), or even having players inside the penalty area, to avoid overly defensive “tactics”. This one.
Whoever plays here approves this step in defining the rules. «It is good, there was this objective of being able to harmonize rules, hopefully it will be a step in that direction», says Nuno Costa. «I knew they were going to publish the rules. It’s good, ”says Chris Wright, while the British veteran admits that, basically, the practice is to“ adapt the rules to the situation ”. Namely the number of players available to play.
Nuno Costa believes that Walking Football can evolve as yet another variant of football. For now still in English, there is no Portuguese name adopted for the sport: “We have kept Walking Football, it is the name it is known for, even in countries like the Netherlands or Germany.”
«Basically, you may also be able to go through a process like street soccer. Currently, the team that CAIS organizes is already recognized as a national team within the Federation, there are already regional investigations to define the team. I hope that the path can be in that direction, valuing a new modality in football », says Nuno Costa.
But you will always have in essence the simple practice of sport and socializing. Preferably with humor. Again Chris Wright, speaking about Walking Football Algarve: «We have a social component, we have a Christmas get-together, we have an annual dinner where we deliver prizes. We call them Zimmer Awards. » It is boring to explain a joke, but it has to be. «Zimmer frame» is a walker, one of those devices to help those with mobility difficulties. «We choose the player of the year, the best goal, or the player who runs the most, which is the« Diarrhea »prize.»