As part of our walking football week, we want to shed light on some of the positive stories that have come about as a result of participating in Walking Football and to encourage more people to get involved with this rapidly growing format of the game.
We spoke to Norwich Soca Seniors Secretary, Chris Rackham, who has been involved with the group from the very beginning and asked him:
How did the Norwich Soca Seniors group begin and then grow into the success that it is today?
“Early in 2015, The Football Development Centre (FDC) in Norwich initiated a Walking Football Taster Session at its Bowthorpe facility. About seven or eight players turned up but all were instantly hooked by the concept of playing football again after long periods of absence. The numbers quickly grew until there were enough bodies to begin regular weekly 5-a side matches. At about the same time the UEA Sportspark had begun offering walking football sessions under its ‘Fitness in Later Life’ initiative. It was not long before participants at the UEA began to attend the FDC sessions and vice versa. Numbers at both venues grew steadily during 2015 and it quickly became obvious to players that the game offered, not only an enjoyable way of keeping fit, but provided a gateway to form new friendships and revive the camaraderie experienced through participation in team sports like football.
"Late in 2015 the players at both venues got together to form their own club - Norwich Soca Seniors - a name loosely based on the South American team BOCA Juniors. A preference for playing at the FDC soon became apparent and that is where the club is now based. A strong relationship between the club and the FDC was forged. By 2016 numbers had risen to 40 plus players.
"The growth in popularity of walking football experienced by the Norwich club was mirrored nationally and it was not long before the club was participating in local and international tournaments. It played its first international tournament in 2016, and it participated in further tournaments in Italy 2017, Spain and France in 2018. It will be returning to Spain in May of this year. The club’s over 65s team has been crowned European Masters Champions for the last two years and its trophy cabinet at the FDC bears witness to its teams’ UK successes. Last year the club reached the finals of the National Walking Football Tournament in Gloucestershire.”
What is the current outlook for Norwich Soca Seniors?
“Today the club has 90 members making it one of the largest walking football clubs in the UK. It now offers three daytime walking football sessions per week at the FDC and is contemplating starting an evening session for those for whom daytime games are not possible.
"The club is particularly proud of its charitable activities. In 2017 Norwich Soca Seniors with support from theFDC organised an East of England Tournament raising over £1200 for East Anglian Childrens’ Hospice and the following year it raised £1825 for Prostate Cancer UK. It has also been involved in introducing Waking Football to disadvantaged students at Norwich City College by running a six-week course. These charitable activities, as well as its role in promoting general and health benefits to its members through football, have recently come to the attention of commercial entities wishing to be seen to support such ventures. The club has thus recently attracted generous sponsorship from Norfolk Wealth Management who will continue to partner its activities in coming years.”
What would you say is the best part about playing Walking Football with Norwich Soca Seniors?
“Perhaps the most satisfying element of the club’s ethos is that it welcomes footballers of all abilities and all social classes - united not only in their enthusiasm for walking football also keen to socialise together off the field through regular pub evenings, golf days and other events. All our welcome to join us.”
This ethos has been demonstrated by the enjoyment that Norwich Soca Seniors Player, Barry Austin has experienced. Barry first got involved with Walking Football 3 years ago as a way of keeping fit and making friends. He first started walking football at the UEA, but has now settled with the Norwich Soca Seniors session at FDC, Bowthorpe.
Barry who is now a regular at Norwich Soca Seniors, had a mild stroke three years ago:
“When I was in hospital I said to my wife that I had three goals. My three goals were to be able to climb the stairs, to be able to drive again and to be able to play football and golf again. I achieved all of this after six months… I knew that I must not give up, so I started playing walking football.”
Barry, like many others, uses Walking Football to stay active later in life. The adapted form of the game allows those who are no longer able to participate in the traditional 11-a-side fast paced form of the game, the opportunity to still enjoy the competitive nature of the sport, minus the physicality.
Barry’s best memory associated with Walking Football was when he was part of team which won theFDC@Flegg’s walking football tournament. Barry played alongside his son-in-law, Grandson and three friends. The team made up of three generations picked up the tournament trophy.
Not only does the sport allow many to continue playing a sport that they love and to stay healthy but many comment of the psychological benefits. It is clear to see when watching this group of Walking Footballers that they not only love playing the sport, but they have forged real friendships at the same time.
Want to get involved with walking football? Email Rachel.Cossey@NorfolkFA.com to find out where your nearest walking football session is held.