When Allen Gotts “lost” his left leg after a bunion operation 11 years ago, he could have been forgiven thinking his football days were over.
He’d played for more than 50 years – starting as a youngster and developing a deep love of what’s considered the world over as “the beautiful game”.
But for the past two weeks, he has been warming up his prosthetic left leg and his good right one with a few well-placed kicks before taking the Kawana Football Club main field for the Sunshine Coast’s latest sporting craze.
The club in Milieu Place, Warana, has been hosting free walking football come-and-try- events on Thursdays from 6.30pm.
Fully affiliated through Football Queensland, the shorter matches on smaller fields with modified rules and no contact put a new spin on the sport.
Men, women, novices and experienced football players come together in teams of five, six or seven a side, depending on numbers.
The matches are so much more than just a walk in the park.
Participants such as Allen are finding their feet in the new format that allows many to become active once again, show the kids they’ve still got the moves and enjoy mixing with like-minded, newfound friends.
“This was good fun last week,” Allen said as he arrived early for another round.
“I can’t play any other sort of sport so I may as well give it a go. Have a bit of fun.”
And while Allen’s experience may give him an unfair advantage in being able to kick and defend both feet, he lets slip to the opposing team that he can be “wrong-footed” because sometimes he can’t turn his prosthetic leg as fast as he’d like.
Kawana FC director of coaching and University of the Sunshine Coast academic Dr Scott McLean applauds Allen’s enthusiasm and the example he set by turning up and giving walking football a go on the first come-and-try night.
“He just absolutely loved it and he ran around and got stuck right into it,” Scott said.
“He had a ball.”
Scott said the long-term goal of walking football was to keep people active, playing sport and connected to their favourite clubs for as long as possible.
He said the non-contact sport was ideal for those who felt they could no longer be competitive on the sporting field because of past or current physical problems, age or lack of experience. As long as you can walk, you can play.
While rules are flexible, the main difference to the bigger game is that players must walk “heel to toe” to the ball or while moving around the field, with one foot touching the ground at all times.
That’s harder than it sounds.
The walking rule is frequently broken when players get excited and inadvertently break into a jog.
Then the whistle blows, resulting in a free kick to the other team.
The field size is much smaller – about an eighth of a senior field – and can be adjusted, depending on numbers of players per side.
Passing accuracy to another player’s feet is critical, otherwise the ball often just sails past.
Goals can only be kicked inside the small semi-circle around the flags marking the goal posts.
“We only play with a few minor rules, but official competitions are a bit stricter,” Scott said.
“For us at Kawana, it’s more about having fun.
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“There’s no contact. Kicking above the 2m high goals is not allowed. There’s no tackling.
“You can put a bit of pressure on and that type of thing.
“Walking football is quite flexible to suit the participants you’ve got and obviously the facilities you’ve got as well.
“Because it’s affiliated with Football Queensland, when people sign up to play, they’re fully insured by Football Queensland.
“For the next couple of weeks, it’s just a come and try. No cost, and the bar is open so you can tell a few stories of former glories.”
A recent match saw Scott and club stalwart Les “Casper” Fleming share playing and refereeing duties for the eight men and women – singles and couples, of all ages and experience – who took the field.
“That’s the beauty of it: everybody is on the same level,” Casper said.
His wife Kayleen also had a run … or, in this case, walk.
“It’s good for people like me who’ve pretty much played soccer their whole life but I just can’t run anymore,” she said.
To the casual observer, this is a game of centimetres. The ball can be so near and yet so far … it simply can’t be reached at walking pace, as hard as the players try.
But the frustration of the ball rolling out of bounds before their eyes or an opposition player beating them by a whisker to the kick only adds to the amusement.
Everyone seems to have a fast-walk style all of their own.
Watching players try to stop themselves as they remember mid-stride not to break into a run is a hoot for spectators.
And the familiar football shout of “man on” – warning a teammate with the ball of an opposing player close behind – is likely to make the whole field crack up laughing.
Scott hopes walking football will grow into a weekly competition.
“We’ll do a couple of seasons over the year: maybe a 10-week block then have a break,” he said.
“It’s still a bit fluid at the minute but we’ll work it out as we get there.”
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While competitive walking football matches are held around the world (Walking Football has officially been added to the 12th Pan Pacific Masters Games on the Gold Coast in November this year), Scott and Kawana FC want to keep things casual.
“We don’t want the competitive side,” he said.
“We’re just doing it to get more community engagement happening and show that people at any age can come and enjoy football.
“And hopefully, you know, it might turn out that they come down and watch the premier men on a Saturday afternoon and get involved in the club.
“We want to be a community club.”
Just turn up for a 6.30pm game on Thursday nights at Kawana. For more, visit Football Queensland
A WALK THROUGH HISTORY
The first known game of walking football is thought to have taken place in Derby, England, on May 14,, 1932, between Derby Railway Veterans and Crewe Railway Veterans.
The modern-day game was started by Chesterfield Community Football Club coaches about 2011, soon after it appeared in a Barclays Bank advertisement featuring a team from Cove in Hampshire.
Walking football came to Queensland after Alan Templeton saw a news report in June 2017, while watching TV from his couch in North Lakes near Brisbane.
The story was about a group of elderly former professional footballers in England who still wanted to play the game they loved but could no longer run after a ball.
Alan’s efforts to organise walking football in South-East Queensland were realised when the Walking Football Brisbane organisation he founded held its first session of social walking football at what is now Northside Indoor Sport and Fitness on January 7, 2018.
In August 2019, Football Queensland appointed Alan as its first walking football development manager – aiming to roll out more grassroots walking football programs across Queensland.
FOOTBALL QUEENSLAND WALKING FOOTBALL RULES
Football Queensland has developed “Laws of the Game” for walking football “to reflect the ethos and values of this unique sport” and to ensure every participant’s age, gender and ability are taken into consideration.
- No running
- No tackles from behind.
- No tackles from the side.
- No contact.
- No backing into players.
- Respect the referee’s decision.
- No shoulder charging, pushing or barging.
- Stop play at head height.
- No careless, reckless or dangerous play.
- Play fair – enjoy the game.