Plymouth Argyle have collected the first silverware of the new season by winning The Football League Trust’s first Walking Football tournament, at St. George’s Park this week.The finals day, which took place at England’s training ground, played host to 10 finalists from nine Football League teams, who had qualified from the five regional heats.
This slow-paced version of the beautiful game is aimed specifically at the over-50s. As the name suggests, it is a non-contact sport and anyone that sprints, runs or jogs while the ball is in play is penalised.
In the competition, the teams were split into two groups of five with the top two qualifying for the semi-finals, and there was very little to choose between any of the teams.
Going into the final group games, Blackpool and Plymouth had already qualified from Group 2 but the outcome of their game would decide who topped the group. In the end nothing could separate the teams and Blackpool won the group on goal difference.
In Group 1, AFC Wimbledon scored a late winner against Derby B to keep their hopes alive. This left Derby A needing a win against Leeds United in order to qualify, but they could only collect a 0-0 draw, in what was a pulsating end-to-end game with a host of chances.
This meant the semi-final line-up was Plymouth versus Derby A and AFC Wimbledon versus Blackpool.
Both games were incredibly tight and won by a single goal, with Blackpool and Plymouth setting up a rematch in the final.
In that match there was nothing to choose between the teams in normal time and the game entered a tense period of extra time.
It was Argyle that broke the deadlock with a goal from Trevor Richards direct from a corner. However, that was not to be the end of the drama as there was almost a late twist, with the Seasiders forcing a fine save from the Plymouth keeper with the last kick of the match.
The final whistle sparked Argyle’s celebrations and confirmed that they had won the tournament - a remarkable achievement for a team who had only started playing the game eight weeks ago.
"It's a very difficult game to play. If you over-hit or under-hit a pass you can't catch the ball up because you aren't allowed to run,” Plymouth goal scorer Richards said. “It's great fun, and I would recommend it to anyone. You have got learn very quickly not to run."
Dean Grice from The Football League Trust said: “Walking Football has grown massively over the last few years. The game is brilliant for over 50s and is designed to help people keep an active lifestyle despite their age, as well as getting those back playing football who had to stop due to injuries.
“The health benefits are immense, simply playing one hour a week for three months enables players to cover 30 miles and burn 4,200 calories.”
The 10 finalists were: AFC Wimbledon, Blackpool, Crewe Alexandra, Derby County ‘A’, Derby County ‘B’, Leeds United, Norwich City, Plymouth Argyle, Swindon Town and York City.
Following on from the success of Walking Football’s pilot year with The Football League Trust, there is a big momentum now to increase participation further and grow the game to every area of the country.