“Walking football has been life-changing for me, as it has been for many others across the country.”
As chairman of Walking Football Scotland, one would expect Gary McLaughlin to be effusive in his praise for the sport. After a year that saw a surge in national interest in walking football, however, there is an unquestionable substance to his beliefs.
“Folk from the older generation that have all loved football, played football at some level but had to give it up for various reasons – we could never re-engage,” said McLaughlin.
“I sort of look on my generation as the forgotten generation in a way – you could play bridge or go line-dancing, but there wasn’t a lot else for us out there.
“Walking football has allowed us to get back involved with the game, by giving us a route back to playing the sport we all love.”
No running allowed!— BBC Sport Scotland (@BBCSportScot) June 23, 2018
The 2018 Walking Football Scotland Festival strode onto Glasgow Green on Saturday with BBC Radio Scotland's Sportsound team putting in a brave, but maybe too sedate, performance! pic.twitter.com/EL7iKm5rov
Having enjoyed a slow but steady introduction to Scotland over the past decade, 2018 saw an exponential shift in the sport’s history with greater media interest and the continued rise in participation levels nationwide. Over 2500 participants get their weekly walking football fix at sessions from Lerwick to Gretna, as players of all ages experience the undoubted benefits the sport has to offer.
“The health benefits are there for all to see, both physical and mental,” said McLaughlin.
“We’ve got guys sitting on the sofa at home, so this gets them out and doing something. There are a whole range of physical upsides, from the cardio aspect to strengthening hip and knee joints.
“It’s a game for all ages. Competition-wise, we stick to over-50s purely for health and safety reasons, but that doesn’t stop younger people who have had joint trouble coming for a game – all are welcome.
“We also work closely with SAMH (Scottish Association for Mental Health). One of the best things about getting together is just listening and including people. It’s allowed people to meet up and play with friends from 40 or 50 years ago, whilst making new friends at the same time.
“The social aspect is brilliant – it’s the camaraderie and carrying-on that re-engages people and gives it a real club identity and spirit. At Ayr, where I’m a member, we’ve taken hospitality at games a few times, whilst clubs like Gala Fairydean have hosted barbeques for players and their families – it’s amazing how it connects people.”
McLaughlin and his team are now fully dedicated to ensuring that the developments of 2018 are built upon over the next twelve months and beyond, as they look to continue their provision of football for all. A new education pathway delivered in partnership with the Scottish FA is in the works for 2019, just one of many upcoming milestones that excites McLaughlin.
“Last year was amazing for us,” he said.
“We had over 600 people playing walking football on Glasgow Green last summer, so we have to keep engaging people.
The more publicity and success we have in reaching out to people, the more people engage. We have to keep pushing the message out there – if we do that, then people will keep getting up off their sofas and out and about.”