Caught Off Stride: Alan Richards
Running a walking football group
Whether you already attend a walking football group or are looking to join one soon, it’s easy to forget the hard work that’s gone into arranging its very existence.
Alan Richards has been instrumental in the growth of walking football sessions in Denton and Ashton-under-Lyne and works closely with local clubs and charities to ensure they run (walk) smoothly for all involved.
We spoke to Alan to help understand what it takes to coordinate weekly groups in two locations, while also playing himself.
Alan was very generous with his time and we’re grateful for his excellent advice and insights. Don’t forget to say thanks or ask a question yourself in the comments!
1. How did you first get involved in walking football?
I heard about it on the TV a couple of years ago, then discovered a session in my area. Cleared it with my bilateral hip replacement surgeon and Bob was my uncle!
I’d long cherished the thought of kicking a ball again on an organised basis. I saw this format as a real possibility. I have played up to three times a week across our two venues ever since and also played in indoor and outdoor competitions.
2. Can you briefly describe how Tameside Striders was formed and your
reasons behind starting the group?
Tameside Striders, the playing name of ‘Denton Walking Football Group’ sprang from a group ran by a well-being organisation funded by Age UK Tameside. We also played at Curzon Ashton.
The money was running out fast and we were given the option in a forward thinking move by Age UK, of taking Denton on ourselves, or facing an uncertain future where the sessions might have been at risk.
Volunteering to drive the idea of independence forward with the help of others, there was simply no way I was going to allow my new found involvement with something akin to football, to slip away.
3. How have the sessions developed since they first began?
At Denton the numbers have more than doubled since ‘independence’. We currently have close to forty registered players. We have expanded to TWO hour time slot. After two simultaneous games come ‘The Lingerers’ who can’t get too much walking football and they stay on for another lively game.
With only two pitches maximum we’d have problems if ALL the players turned up at the same time. That hasn’t happened yet. We now tend to split players into under and over 65s.
With some exceptions, ‘The Unders’ group are a bit more energetic and intense, and prone to run more. All games are refereed and our ‘three team runs = a penalty’ rule helps to curb this urge.
All games are played to 95% WFA Rules (ie. non to (sub) minimal contact). We rarely have issues with over physicality although the odd ‘accident’ will always be a risk. Our players are almost always restrained and sensible. We have a duty towards one another, after all.
‘The Overs’ play a slightly more restrained game which is as close to pure walking football as you’re likely to get. Oddly, for a ‘well-being’ organisation the rules when I first became involved were rather risky allowing heading, high balls and incursion into the ‘D’ area putting goalkeepers at risk.
We immediately set about trying to change this and players saw the sense in doing so. One of the first things I instigated was modest personal accident insurance via the F.A.’s brokers,‘Bluefin’.
4. What is involved in organising your weekly sessions and what support
do you get from charities and clubs?
Well, I need a van for a start to carry the Denton gear, but happily I had one already! We have accumulated a fair bit of equipment now and also carry signage to inform anyone in the vicinity who we are and what we are about.
We don’t have a bench yet, but as we go for two hours we have half a dozen individual stools for tired legs – or for those substitutes when everyone finally decides turn up at the same time!
Miniature goals too, just in case numbers are low (rare), and other ’stuff’ like first aid kit all has to be transported. Bibs and kit need washing regularly which I tend to do, having finally grasped how washing machines work, but others willingly volunteer to help out. I miss very few sessions but when I do our committee men step in under our esteemed Chairman, Gordon Nixon.
We have a regular, standing arrangement with Denton Youth F.C. to rent the pitch every Tuesday which is paid for promptly, and is a reasonable amount.
Age UK Tameside gave us a four-figure grant in summer 2016, some of which has been spent wisely on kit and ancillary equipment. I am keen on seeing that the game has a sound and sustainable future in Denton after we, the current custodians and players, have hung up our trainers.
The Postcode Lottery awarded us a grant of £500 in the form of kit and equipment after I applied for it late last year. I have personally made substantial donations for kit, equipment, and initial website costs.
Other individuals have donated freely too. We had enough kit to equip four teams in our recent ‘Summer Seventeen’ internal Festival. We have a sponsor for the internal trophies we present an annual basis.
Tameside Striders are usually self-sustaining on a week-to-week basis at £3 per two hour session, plus a small £5 signing-on fee each August which effectively covers the annual insurance premium. As co-treasurer, I believe in total transparency and the other five committee men are kept informed of finances on a weekly basis online.
Curzon Ashton F.C. (‘The Nash’) were keen to take the Ashton group under their wing and, by invitation, I became the coordinator for their walking football programme.
A one hour, twice weekly session costs players just £2 and includes a brew afterwards. The club has a community focus and subsidises our sessions. Some players now attend first team games in the stadium, next to our 3G pitch. Curzon’s commitment and support has definitely increased awareness of their status as a National League (North) Club.
We have the friendly, supportive supervision of a highly respected former professional footballer and sessions are again regularly refereed. The Nash Amblers are a little more competition-minded than the Tameside Striders and take part in the Greater Manchester Walking Football League (GMWFL) at Heywood once a month.
The Amblers finished in second place in the Spring League which proved popular with our players. In fact, we now send two teams with The Nash ‘Bees’ starting out in the third division for this Autumn season.
There is a crossover effect in terms of players although both Denton and Ashton are entirely separate entities. About 60% of the Ashton men also play with Striders and vice-versa.
On a personal level, my own commitment to the cause (both causes) keeps me busy in retirement. It’s not quite an unpaid part-time job but it’s getting there. I really enjoy it and hope to maintain involvement for a long time, possibly even beyond my playing days.
It’s unfinished business for me as I gave up playing football far too soon due to work commitments and family responsibilities. This is my football ‘fix’ although it’s definitely not the same game, but an approximation and is all the better for it at my age.
5. How do you promote your sessions to new players?
I launched the website sixteen months ago and it’s a handy reference point for anyone who enquires. Few people do not have access to a computer nowadays . We average around 600 ‘hits’ per week.
For those that don’t have internet access, local age-related organisations and charities are aware of us and we have advertised locally too. To be honest, if numbers at Denton increase much further we will need to go to an extra day, depending on pitch availability at King Street.
Cameras are usually in attendance at our sessions – video too. The sense of camaraderie shines through and we do not have any cliques. This welcoming approach is particularly important to us.
Sessions at Ashton are growing slowly too, but in terms of numbers, the sky is the limit there as we could have up to four pitches in action if required. With a brand new surface in the pipeline for next year, I expect numbers to grow.
The Amblers quickly raised well over £1,000 towards the new surface. At the moment, we are playing up to nine-a-side and walking football is best suited to six or seven-a-side, in my opinion.
6. What would you say to new players who may be nervous about starting
out in walking football?
Don’t be. Come and have a look first. Maybe try the warm-up. Kick a ball around. If you have played the game before at any level it will help. If you haven’t, then we can perhaps steer you towards a total beginners group.
Watch some of the videos online via the website. The men in our groups have been playing for up to three years now. Fitness and stamina has improved for most of them, and many are rediscovering their touch and talents.
We are a mixed ability group though and as such welcome all comers. The extra session I mentioned – assuming it happens at Denton – would cater more for beginners, as well as our current over 65s.
Those of us who desire a somewhat more intense, competitive arena are well catered for twice a week already at Curzon.
7. You describe an ethos where results matter, but are not important.
How did you arrive at this?
These were my words from the start and I try to spread this message. Although not everyone will agree 100%, the smiles before, during and after our internal games reflect a large majority that do, whoever is on the winning team.
Teams are always mixed ability and are different every week. Sure, we have some good players who often stand out, but everyone makes mistakes – often. Results “matter”, in so much as you might kick yourself for a glaring error or a poor performance, team or individual.
I’d hope disappointments are not dwelt upon and nobody is losing sleep over mistakes made on the pitch and matches which are lost, either internally or in competition. We are all getting on a bit in life now and should be circumspect enough to realise this game is a later life bonus to be enjoyed, not endured. It’s just a game.
Winners and losers emerge, of course but neither of these concepts should mar your enjoyment, nor elevate your spirits for very long after the final whistle has gone – it’s just not that important.
Competitions are more intense of course, but enjoyment is still the key for us rather than trophies. And, although some have come already, we still have to WIN something outright, but you’ll appreciate by now it’s not something I worry about.
Of course, one gets wrapped up in the moment sometimes as our video commentaries will attest and it can be exciting, even exhilarating. Sometimes disappointing yes, but not worth fretting about when it goes wrong, in my opinion.
8. How do your players socialise off the pitch? What do you believe are
the main non-sporting benefits of playing walking football?
Tea or Coffee is always on offer after the sessions and many partake. The Snack Bar at Curzon is particularly busy with the world regularly put to rights. We have had a few evenings featuring ‘the dreaded curry’ – not to my taste unfortunately, but I did attend the last one for egg and chips!
We had a Christmas ‘do’ last year with wives and partners, and plan another one this year, involving both groups. My phone pings and rings rather more than it ever has.
Social media is busy too. I have more male friends and acquaintances than at any time since my schooldays. Because of the times we play the pub is usually avoided. Perhaps just as well as I like to get home in daylight, and there’s the van, of course!
9. What’s the best way for somebody to get involved with the Tameside
Check out the website or come along to King Street on a Tuesday morning from 10am. Introduce yourself and we’ll have a friendly word about walking football, what it entails and what demands it places upon ones body.
Watch a game, fill in a registration form and take it from there. The same goes for Curzon Ashton and the Nash Amblers sessions, where we would especially welcome new players.
Mondays and Fridays (except the first Friday of the month when we play in the league) at 11:00am.
10. And finally, what’s behind the names – Striders and Amblers?
The Amblers name comes from the old classic American car, ‘The Nash Rambler’. ’The Nash’ is Curzon’s usual nickname and their C.E.O. Natalie really liked it so it stuck.
I also came up with Tameside Striders as the initial ‘Denton Strollers’ was a bit parochial. Nobody seemed to object to the change as it encompassed the whole metropolitan borough.
Think that you’ve nearly encompassed all that we and walking football are about. Anybody new wondering about giving it a try, will surely be motivated by your detailed responses to come and join us Well said Al, done yourself and us proud as always. Many thanks.
I have been a member of various sports clubs. I have held posts on committees such as selection and development but I must state that playing at Denton and Curzon would not be so enjoyable without the fantastic efforts of Alan, the committee and the fellow players all who are a great bunch of friends now best move I made for a long time joining walking football.
Playing with this group is great. Everyone is welcoming and plays fair on the pitch. Referees make such a differecne. I’m really pleased I found Tameside Striders. Well organised and you can play for nearly two hours if you want to.