BEST FOOT FOWARD: Participants at Gainford’s walking football session are put through their paces at one of the twice-weekly sessions
BEST FOOT FOWARD: Participants at Gainford’s walking football session are put through their paces at one of the twice-weekly sessions

IT might not be the Champions League but a local sports coach is appealing to would-be Sterlings, Salahs, Hazards, and Kanes to come and try the latest sports craze – walking football.

Walking football is a slower version of the beautiful game, aimed at keeping people over 50 involved in football, especially if, due to lack of mobility or other reasons, they are unable to play the traditional game.

Kyle Swankie, of Swankie Sports, who is organising the twice-weekly sessions at Gainford sports field said: “Walking football is devised for everyone to take part.

“We have got a real mixed bag, there are quite a few people in their 50s, a couple of gentlemen in their 60s, two teenagers and up to four women and several children.”

Mr Swankie added: “Walking football is an excellent way of staying fit and active, it reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease and stroke while improving blood pressure, lowering cholesterol and improving blood sugar levels as well as slashing the odds of suffering from type two diabetes.”

The sessions are currently paid for by Gainford Parish Council via a grant from Durham County Council to provide community based sports sessions.

Initially one session every Saturday was provided, but they have become so popular that a second session on a Tuesday evening has been added.

When he was approached to see if he would run the sessions, Mr Swankie said: “To be honest I was a little unsure about the idea at first. I had to go away and do my homework.

“The response initially was slow but as word got out it has become incredibly popular.”

Mr Swankie’s mum Gail said: “I only started coming along at the start to support Kyle. I had never kicked a football in my life before. Now I am a committed regular. It is a really enjoyable way to keep fit and they are such a nice group of people.”

Walking football is based on traditional football with a number of key differences.

There are no slide tackles, the ball must not go above waist height and if a player runs at any time they concede a free kick.

Mr Swankie added: “Because players are not allowed to run it is a very skilful game, passing has to be accurate and everyone has to have an awareness of who is around them.”

The sport is played in a manner that promotes cardiovascular fitness while producing the least stress on the body. One regular participant, chairwoman of Gainford and Langton Parish Council Lisa Johnson, said: “It is amazing fun to play and I regularly manage 4,000 steps in an hour.”

Another regular, 66-year-old Brian Rees said: “I thought my competitive playing days were over. This has given me a new lease of life.”

Mr Swankie said: “If you really want to get your heart rate up, forget Madrid or Baku this summer and get yourselves down to Gainford sports and recreation field, just behind the primary school.”

He added: “Looking to the future I would like to generate enough interest to organise a local league.”

Sessions are currently free and are held every Saturday 12.30pm to 1.30pm and every Tuesday 6pm to 7pm. Just turn up on the day or for more details contact Kyle Swankie on 07841 038641.