Walking football is on the rise in Tameside thanks to The Nash Amblers and Vintage Celtic.
Both sides – who represent Curzon Ashton and Stalybridge Celtic – have grown in size and appeal since they were first formed in 2016 and 2014 respectively.
What was once an outlet to lead a healthier lifestyle has rapidly become a favourite pastime for thousands across the country.
Alan Richards, who is regarded as the figurehead for the Nash Amblers, spoke to Reporter Sport about the evolution of walking football and where he sees the sport in the next five years. He said: “It’s an opportunity to reengage with a football, even if you’ve never played before and you’ve got no ability that you know of – you might even surprise yourself.
“The important thing is to give it a try.”
Alan sampled his first taste of walking football in 2016 and has never looked back.
He has since taken part in numerous competitions and has even enrolled on a referee course, to be carried out by the Manchester Football Association in January.
Alan’s love for the game is evident, although he understands that many people take part in the sport for the social and health reasons, rather than the competitive aspects. “There’s a great social side, as it gets people active and out and about” said Alan.
“We’re not here to attract good footballers. We welcome people of any ability, because we just want to get them off the couch and into the fresh air.
“If they’ve played before then it’s a bonus, but if they haven’t, then that’s great as well.”
In a bid to make the game as inclusive as possible, Alan’s other team, The Tameside Striders, have launched a mixed gender session on Thursday mornings.
Aimed at over 65 men and over 50 women, the sessions will be tailored for fun and enjoyment, with mini goals and no contact. Alan said: “We’ve called the new sessions ‘Denton Thursday’, which is a play on Sheffield Wednesday.
“The sessions will start on December 14, and the first four sessions will be free of charge, thanks to a grant from a housing company. It will give people a chance to see if they like it, and if they do, it will only cost them a couple of pounds per session following the free trial.”
For the more experienced player like Alan, walking football provides an opportunity to pit his wits against some of the best teams in the region.
At the start of December, the Nash Amblers returned from a competition in Heywood as runners-up, having gone unbeaten all day.
Alan has nothing but praise for the way in which the league has been run. He said: “It’s been a good, competitive league that is well run.
“Local man Bill Murney, who manages Vintage Celtic, does the lion’s share of the organising and it’s a good event that has attracted teams from as far as Wakefield, Blackpool and Fleetwood, so that speaks for itself really.”
You can keep up-to-date with the Nash Amblers on Twitter: @TheNashAmblers