After a certain age, the practice of sport becomes more difficult due to a lack of accessibility and organized sessions.
Some activities like walking are easy and good for fitness, but lack the social element that team sports have, according to Niall O’Donnell, who runs the Wakefield Walking Football Club.
Since the start of 2014, O’Donnell has seen the number increase every week, with many older men from the Wakefield area attending Walking Football sessions.
Niall O’Donnell (right) runs the Wakefield Walking Football Club and has seen its membership increase
“When I retired as director of banking operations, I found myself lost,” says O’Donnell, 66. “I saw an ad that the local council was trying to start foot football for over 50 years in the area.
“When I arrived there were six people playing. We all enjoyed it very much, but a group of six people playing football on a large pitch isn’t much fun! “
And so O’Donnell used his years of experience in the banking industry to develop the sessions. He started by putting a photo in the local newspaper – with a few extras to make him busier than he was – and saw the numbers skyrocket.
There are now up to four sessions per week with 100 members in total and around 30 people showing up for each session.
They charge £ 2 per session and the local council has supported the business which allowed them to get more kit and balls.
When asked what it means to be named as a ‘hero’ O’Donnell replies, ‘The hero makes me embarrassed but I’ll tell you what I am – I’m an organizer.
O’Donnell used years of banking experience to grow the club from six members to 100
“In my professional life, I had people doing jobs that you wouldn’t think people are doing now, making payments for the bank, and so on. – things you can now do over the phone.
“There would be 250 doing that, so I’m good at organizing. So when I go to soccer you have 30 people, I put them in teams and I think that’s why I was nominated because I’m the one who gets things done.
The club have won tournaments, traveled to St George’s Park and some of the players have continued to represent England.
And while these players have bragging rights, O’Donnell insists his sessions are a social activity designed for fun.
Many men are retired and can feel lonely. But the camaraderie and fun of an hour-long kickabout with like-minded people can be the highlight of their week. “When you get to a certain age, everyone wants to play sports, but it’s difficult. Old people play golf, for example, but it’s not everyone’s scene, ”adds O’Donnell. “What we do helps your general health and behavior. It keeps you interested in something that is mentally good.
“And this is the opportunity to have a little social interaction. And for some of our guys, they don’t have any interaction with anyone else.
“When I arrive half an hour earlier, there are always three or four in the parking lot who clearly have nothing else to do and see it as a chance to get out. It’s great to see them walk together laughing and chatting. There are people for whom this has been invaluable. You see everyone loves what they do.
O’Donnell’s skills go beyond cone laying. A few weeks ago, being organized enough to organize a defibrillator on site saved a life – not for the first time.
“We had a new guy come on his second time. He was 70 years old, a good footballer at the time and was doing a bit of scouting for clubs, ”says O’Donnell. “Immediately he had a heart attack. But we have a defibrillator and we brought it. This is the second person we are resuscitating.
After Christian Eriksen collapsed on the Danish pitch at Euro 2020 last month, there is a nationwide shortage of defibrillator batteries
“In January 2019, we had an 80-year-old finish. He walked the pitch, hadn’t actually kicked the ball when he collapsed in the center circle. We managed to revive him with the defibrillator.
After Christian Eriksen’s collapse on the Danish pitch at Euro 2020 last month, there is a nationwide shortage of defibrillator batteries, O’Donnell said.
But despite the two incidents, he is eager to finish by adding that the physical and mental benefits outweigh any risks and he wants foot football to be a more popular and accessible pastime for older men and women. – and thanks to people like him, there are plenty of opportunities for everyone.