IN DAYS gone by, reaching the age of 50 may have been considered a negative milestone – a time to wind the body down and cruise through to retirement and old age.
But 50 is definitely the new 40 – or 30 some will tell you.
And one sport rewriting the rules is Walking Football.
The fairly new phenomenon is taking the nation by storm and one man leading the charge in Solihull is former Birmingham City footballer Martin Howles.
The former midfielder runs sessions at the Tudor Grange Sports Centre in Solihull and week on week he is seeing first hand the sports’ increasing popularity, so what does Martin put it down to?
“People are living longer now,” he told the Observer. “When people get to 50 they have got leisure time and a bit more money in their pocket.
“With advances in medication and advice from doctors and experts, what people used to get years ago doesn’t get you anymore.”
Walking football is exactly what its name suggests. It is a shorter format of the popular sport which closely resembles five-a-side.
The rules are similar to the mainstream sport however there are some differences. Free kicks are indirect, kick-ins replace throw-ins, the offside rule has been scrapped, good news for some, and of course there is no running.
Martin’s first session at Tudor Grange attracted as little as four people but now he attracts men and women between the age of 50 and 81 to his three sessions.
“Its great fun and it’s great for old people because it gets them out of the house,” Martin continued.
“If you just go out for a gentle jog you’re just using your legs, but with walking football you have the mental side to the game too and of course you also have the social aspects to go with it.”
The sports’ roots can be found in Chesterfield in 2011 when the club’s Community Trust wanted to create a format of the game to inspire people over the age of 50 to get out of their seats and back into exercise.
It also offers social benefits for elderly people as well as a competitive edge too, with rumours of a ‘walking football world cup’ in the pipeline, but Martin is keen to stress that the enjoyment factor must remain paramount.
“I go out of my way to accommodate players of all ages and abilities and I think if you bring in that competitive edge it takes away the fun factor.
“There might be old pub teams out there that want to play in a league but my sessions are crafted so that everyone can be involved and my regulars come back.
“Playing competitively can cause injuries especially for people at this age. I prefer to coach these guys how to play and give them more longevity.”
Martin has plenty of experience in football having signed professional terms with Birmingham City before spending time in Denmark and New Zealand, something he feels has helped shape the way he coaches walking football.
He is now wanting to branch out in the future as the sport grows, offering his services in a consultancy role.
“My method works and there aren’t many people who have been doing this as long as me,” Martin added.
“I spent some time in New Zealand where their coaching methods are different to ours and its no coincidence that they keep winning at the rugby. Their work ethic has stayed with me.
“I played a two-touch system because I don’t like the idea of players just dribbling with the ball. My sessions are emphasised on technique and technical drills.
“I want to help design and shape lessons for generations to come
Martin’s sessions at Tudor Grange run on Mondays and Tuesdays from 10am to 11am, as well as Thursdays 10 to 11.30am. He also has big plans to run more sessions on Saturdays and for people under the age of 50.