A group of spritely seniors is kicking physical activity goals through a City of Whittlesea social soccer initiative having positive impacts on their health and wellbeing.
More than 40 energetic men and women from a diverse range of cultural backgrounds meet at the Mill Park Basketball Stadium every Thursday to play Walking Football – a slower version of the game designed to get older people active, with running forbidden and the ball restricted to below head height.
The City of Whittlesea’s Positive Ageing team introduced the program five years ago, and it now runs as a successful collaboration with Whittlesea U3A, U3A Network Victoria, Melbourne City Football Club and Football Victoria.
Whittlesea U3A Walking Football Program Leader Gerry Fay says many of the male participants played soccer when they were younger, and still have a competitive edge.
“Some of them are still pretty skilful soccer players,” Gerry says.
“Our three rules for the program are for exercise, for fun – don't take it too seriously. I keep reminding them all that they’re probably not going to get selected for Melbourne City’s game next week – some of them don’t believe me. And the third is socialising.”
The program also has a strong group of female participants, who love the opportunity to work up a sweat and laugh together.
“We laugh a lot,” Amb Thangavel says.
“I never played football before coming here – I learnt everything from coming here.”
Maria Veerasamy joined the program after encouragement from husband Harry, who plays in the men’s competition.
“The first time that I joined, the very first day I kicked a goal,” she says.
“I like the social interaction with the ladies, and just to be able to play a game and kick the ball. When I was young I never did any sports because I was really unwell, and at the age of 70 now I’m still kicking goals – it's the fun of it.”
Sri Lankan woman Margaret Samuel discovered the program through the Tamil Seniors Social Club in Mill Park, and jokes that she likes “fast games – not cricket”.
She says she enjoys the chance to “forget everything and have a bit of fun and exercise”.
Newcomer Su says she was initially daunted to play a sport she knew little about.
“I think that’s the first thing that was daunting, but when you actually get involved in it, I think it’s all about your teammates. So far they have been very encouraging and helpful,” she says.
“My first game last week, I kept making mistakes, but they’re just there to support you – I just find that’s really important.”
Football Victoria Programs Manager Stephen Frantzeskakis says the beauty of the program is that players need no experience or skills.
“Everything is simple, from the warm-up to the drills,” he says.
“It caters to everyone, regardless of skill levels and playing abilities.”
There are about 10 walking football programs across the state, with plans to establish more this year. In the City of Whittlesea, another runs on Monday nights at the Doreen United Football Club, and a third will begin at the YMCA Leisure City in Epping on 19 July.
The program will also be showcased at the Young At Heart Games, an Olympics event for seniors being organised by the Positive Ageing team in September.
For more information, contact Gerry Fay on 0418 137 631 or email email@example.com.