Walking back to happiness at Wyndley Leisure Centre
A walking football session at Wyndley Leisure Centre is changing lives and bringing health and happiness to a group of men, many of whom thought they’d never kick a football again.
Scott Leydon, who played for Crewe Alexandra and Shrewsbury Town, as well as spells with Shelbourne and Galway in the Republic of Ireland, before a back injury put paid to his playing career, has been running the walking football sessions at the centre since 2019.
“Until you play walking football, you’ll never see how much fun it is. And you’ll never realise how much energy you use up, even though you are going much slower than in a standard game", Scott said.
“While the sport and the activity are important, what makes this session work is the people who turn up. I’m very lucky at Wyndley. We’ve got such a great bunch of lads here – to a man, this lot are fair, friendly and always supportive to anyone who turns up for a game. This is the kind of group, where if you’re new and nervous, they’ll soon put you at ease.
“Because the pace is slower and the players are a bit more sensible than they probably were 20-30 years ago, the competitive edge is there, but it never goes too far. We’re in this together, to have a bit of a laugh and stay active. Although it’s all men currently, we have had women come down for a game, and it’d be great to see more ladies turn up”.
Many of the players in Scott’s group are over 60 and some are in their 70s, like Mike Emes or Magic Mike as he’s known, for his ability to magic goals out of thin air. Mike’s 76 which makes him the second oldest player on the pitch, one year behind another goal scorer, the prolific Derek ‘Lethal Dekka’ Bickley who’s 77, and has been known to hit double figures in some games.
Then there’s another Mike - Mike Browne, who’s 67, had both knees replaced but still playing and loving it more than ever.
Mike said: “When I packed up football, many, many years ago, I genuinely felt I’d never kick a ball again, so being able to play with this group is great. There’s so many here in the same boat as me. They thought their footballing days were over, but we’re still here, lacking a bit of pace, but still with a footballing brain – that never leaves you.”
Lee Taylor is 47, which makes him the youngest member of the squad by about 20 years. Lee’s journey with the walking football group is the most dramatic. He’d been living with depression for a number of years, but hit rock bottom in 2019, and really struggled through 2020 and 2021’s various COVID-related lockdown periods.
“Due to all the lows and lockdowns, having no self-confidence and low self-esteem, I turned to food as a comfort. My marriage broke down in 2020 on top of everything else, and I felt I had very little purpose in life. My kids kept me going but with not being able to see family due to lockdowns, my lack of motivation and the side-effects of my antidepressants, my weight gain was frightening.
“A blood test at the doctors in 2021 came back with my blood sugar in the diabetic range. I knew I needed to do something, not just for me, but for my kids, so they’d have a dad in the future. I had to find an activity I could stick at, but some days I was even struggling to get out of bed. I heard about the walking football at Wyndley, but joining something like that seemed quite intimidating. Would I embarrass myself? Would they all be better than me, but I made it down one day and haven’t looked back.”
“I wouldn’t be exaggerating if I said that coming here, playing football with this group has changed my life. It’s given me something to look forward to. I’ve lost 3 stone in weight in around 18 months, and I feel more like me again. I couldn’t have done this without the help of Scott and the other players. From day one, everyone here has been welcoming and supportive.”
Now, twice a week you’ll find Lee and about 20 other players walking their way to health, having a laugh and enjoying one of life’s great, simple pleasures – a kick about with your mates.
Sessions take place at Wyndley Leisure Centre on Tuesdays and Thursdays between 10.30am and 12.15pm. It’s a pay-as-you-pay system, so just turn up with your ‘subs’ of £5 and you’re ready to play. Anyone interested in playing – recommended age is over 50, but don’t tell Lee, drop Scott an email for more details: firstname.lastname@example.org.