As part of International Women’s Day being this week, we posed some questions to a member of the Women’s Walking Football sessions at The FDC and The FDC @ Open Academy, Anita Larkins.
What is your involvement in Norfolk Football?
I play Walking Football at the Open Academy on a Monday evening and at the FDC on a Thursday afternoon. I first got involved when Norfolk FA held a Women’s Walking Football tournament and my daughter encouraged me to have a go. With just one practice session beforehand and learning the rules on the day, it proved great fun and from that moment on I was hooked!
Although I’d always enjoyed following football and loved watching my children’s matches, I had never actually played before and having the opportunity to start in my 50s has been brilliant. Regular sessions started on a Monday evening and numbers were growing, then the pandemic hit, and everything stopped. When the restrictions lifted, it felt amazing to be back playing again and I wasn’t alone in thinking this. The sessions were no longer just about learning to play football, they were also a social activity and weekly highlight for us all.
I’ve been reminded of how good it is to be part of a team and others in the group have said how much they enjoy the time for themselves, not having to think about anything else, just playing football and having fun.
As a female in the grassroots game have you ever had to overcome any barriers?
Not personally. The vast majority of people have been genuinely interested to hear more about women’s walking football and have a positive and encouraging attitude towards us playing.
What else could we do at a local level to get more females involved in Norfolk Football?
I think this sort of promotion, with women telling their stories about how and why they’re involved in football, is a really positive thing to do. It highlights that football is for anyone and also the positive difference it can make by getting involved. It’s been great to have some younger players joining in at sessions and they can help spread the word to women in their own families/friendships/work groups. Linking in with high profile health campaigns (menopause is a good and very current example), could provide opportunities to raise awareness of the physical and mental health benefits and perhaps Norfolk FA could offer up some free sessions? Are there options to work in partnership with the UEA, NHS Trusts, NCC Active Norfolk programmes or employers such as Aviva, and focus in on the health and wellbeing benefits? Having spotlight features in match day programmes and promoting walking football opportunities through regional and national women’s leagues, may also encourage more women to get involved. And I’d love to see a women’s veterans league starting up in the not-too-distant future!
What would be your advice to other females who may wish to take a step into the game?
If you’re curious about whether this is something you’d enjoy, then I would say it’s absolutely worth giving it a go. It honestly makes no difference what your level of experience, ability, fitness etc may be, or for that matter, your age. Perhaps you’re a returner to the game and would love to experience the joy of playing football again. Being non-contact and at a slower pace, reduces the risk of aggravating old injuries and can also help accommodate other health constraints. A willingness to give it a go and suitable footwear is all you need, and you’ll soon be reaping the health and wellbeing benefits of keeping active and having fun. One of the players summed it up for me this week when she said, “there is something about the friendly, sporting vibe within this group of women, many of whom are playing football for the first time in their lives, which makes it one of the highlights of my week!”
What has been your highlight of being involved in Norfolk Football?
My personal highlight is the hugely positive difference it has made to my mental and physical health and wellbeing. This past year has been a difficult one for various reasons and the weekly sessions gave me much needed fresh air and headspace. Dealing with high anxiety and low self-confidence was exhausting and spending time just having fun kicking a ball about with these awesome women, gave me such a lift every week. It continues to be a real buzz, my energy levels have increased and I’m much fitter now, both physically and mentally. Thank you to Harry and everyone in the group for the great sessions and the laughter!
Did anyone inspire you to get involved in the game?
I’ll be forever grateful to my daughter Anna for getting me involved in that first tournament; her encouragement, support, and belief in our team’s ability to give it a go, made such a difference to our confidence and we had an absolute blast!
And I continue to be inspired every single week by everyone in the group, they’re all amazing, not least our very own Mo Salah, what a woman!
Should you want to know more about female football in Norfolk, or want to get involved, please e-mail our Football Development Officer, Harry Diggens, on Harry.Diggens@NorfolkFA.com.