By Nick Pelling

Bob Claridge is an unlikely football star, given that he is 83 years old. But ‘Granite Bob’ is a keen member of the Hastings 1066 Walking Football Club. The club usually plays on the fenced-off six-a-side pitch in Alexandra Park. To the sprightly veterans of the Hastings club, their sporting home is known, rather magnificently, as ‘The Cage of Dreams.’ 

To join a walking football club one must be over 50. Being significantly over 50 myself, I decided to give it a go and attend a training game. It turns out that walking football is quicker than you might think, and frustrating and fun in equal measure. Played well, it is a rapid passing game and certainly some of the soccer strollers are highly capable and often rather wily. However, the beauty of this format is that it allows all skill levels to participate, and the hilarity and camaraderie amongst the players was marvellously evident.

PICTURE: Nick Pelling

Walking football is actually a highly structured sport with a national organisation, the Walking Football Association (WFA). It has a clear set of rules, now accepted across the nation. The most obvious difference from orthodox football is obviously the ban on running, but there is also no offside and no hoofing the ball above head height. Leagues are mainly organised on a county basis, and there is also a knockout competition. The game is open to men and women, although on the occasion I participated in Hastings there was only one woman: Margaret, an elusive winger.

Universal language

The Hastings squad is very inclusive: players come from a diverse range of backgrounds, from Iran to St. Leonards. This seems to prove that football is indeed a universal language. The origin of the Hastings 1066 Club is relatively recent. The press officer and cat-like keeper, Tony Harris, said that the club has been running for about seven months but that many of the players began to play football together under the auspices of the council organisation Active Hastings, which still provides volunteers to referee. 

On this occasion a younger volunteer, Georges Gouet – also a full-time fireman – blew the whistle sharply to stop sneaky little runs and other misdemeanours. It would be wrong to assume that older players are not deadly serious. Judging by the competitive attitudes on display in the training game, I suspect Hastings will be very hard to beat in real matches.

Indeed, the commitment of the players is very impressive. Recently one of the strikers, Ali Yukselir, contributed some of his own money to purchase a splendid new kit. Ali is the owner of the Oh My Cod chip shop in Queen’s Road, but football triumphs over fish as a passion. The devoted chair of the club is Phil Aspinall.

In many ways, walking football is the perfect antidote to the lockdown, and will
help its players feel the
release from confinement.
It offers a range of health
tonics: fresh air, social interaction and improving fitness. I should admit that, on the day after my bones had been strolling, I did feel a few new aches and pains. But, no gain without pain, one hopes. What is certainly true is that Hastings 1066 Walking Football Club offers to the town’s more distinguished citizens something that has been missing over the last year, some deeply serious fun. 

Potential participants should contact the website hastingswalkingfootball.co.uk


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