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FEATURE: Lancaster City FC’s Walking Football sessions

Players from the Walking Football session run by Lancaster City FC

Lancaster City’s walking football sessions take place every Thursday from 6.45pm to 8pm on the 3G pitches at the Bay Leadership Academy, Heysham.

They are part of Lancaster City’s ever-growing Dollies in the Community project.

I went to try out walking football for myself last week and I will almost certainly be going again sometime in the future.

It was first set up in September at the Giant Axe’s junior pitches by the club photographer Phil Dawson, and the sessions have steadily increased in popularity since.

The sessions are not coached. It's a very relaxed hour and a quarter of walking football with lots of banter between players, mixed in with a bit of competitive spirit!

It’s a fun, inclusive sport for people of all ages and is mainly designed for those who feel they can’t play football normally. The youngest player last week was in their 30s and the oldest was 69 years old.

Time absolutely flies by while playing it and, once it ends, people are already talking about whether they are able to make next week’s sessions.

Once you get past the fact you can’t run and you have to control yourself a bit, the rest of the rules are easy to follow and are as follows:

· No running with or without the ball

· A third running offence is a penalty to the opposing team

· No slide tackles

· No tackling from behind

· No heading

· Three-touch football

· Play to crossbar or head height

· Outfield players not allowed in penalty area

· One step run up for penalties

· Kick-ins not throw-ins

· No scoring from own half

· Goalkeeper can throw (to height restriction) and kick at any time (in their box)

· Pass backs are allowed but keeper cannot pass ball back to same player.

· Respect your teammates and opponents

· And ENJOY!

Some of the rules are relaxed on some nights and the three-touch rule may be relaxed for those who struggle more with the game.

Georgina, the only woman playing that night, scored two goals during the game and told Beyond Radio after the match: “It’s really good, the lads are really good. I look forward to my Thursday evenings, coming here.

“My daughter’s disabled and I haven’t left the house during the evenings and done something for me in 13 years, so it took some courage to come here, being the only girl too, but it’s really good.

“I feel fitter and it gives you better mental health, I think."

Phil Dawson also spoke to Beyond Radio after the session.

“The 3G pitches are certainly beneficial to the players, as are the floodlights, so those are the major benefits (compared to Giant Axe pitches)," he said.

“The age range is varied but it’s mainly about getting people on the football pitch who feel they can’t play a normal game of football.”

Phil set up a walking football team when he was up in Scotland a few years ago.

“When I was in my home town of Dumbarton I thought to myself ‘why can’t we have walking football here?’. It took time and effort but within a few months we were up and running and playing five-a-side.

"It took us a good year to get us up to double figures but just getting guys to come along in the first place and get others involved was important.”

Walking football is physically beneficial to the players and Phil says “I’ve definitely noticed myself getting fitter as I’m out and about.

"When I’m getting from one side of the pitch to the other I can do it without taking breaths now!”

“So many people have come up to me and said they’ve enjoyed playing even though they’ve not played normal football or didn’t think they would play again. The important thing is seeing people smiling when they arrive here and having an even bigger smile when they get off the pitch.

“It’s not just the football, it’s the banter, it’s being with other people and socialising which is equally important.”

Phil has been club photographer at Lancaster City since August 2021, and he’s loving it and feels like part of the team.

“I’ve been so lucky. I contacted the club last summer and just said ‘do you have a club photographer?’, they said ‘no’, I asked if I could come and take photos and they said I could, and now I feel not just part of the club, but part of the team.

"I’m so involved, I do other bits and pieces for them too. It’s a great club.”

There is a £3 fee per session, but in my view it’s absolutely worth it!

Walking football takes place every Thursday evening at Bay Leadership Academy in Heysham from 6.45-8pm. Anybody with any questions about walking football sessions can contact Phil through this email address: walkingfootball@lancastercityfc.com

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