The footballers who will never walk alone

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FOR SOME, retirement can mean a culture shock that takes you from a daily routine, surrounded by people, to one that can be fractured and incredibly lonely.

But it can also be the chance to discover new passions. Mike Swann is one of dozens of men who have joined a new walking football team in Anlaby, East Riding, and re-discovered a love of sport while also benefiting from a new social circle.

East Riding Council is funding a number of initiatives aimed at reducing loneliness in communities. One of those to benefit is the walking football team based at Haltemprice Leisure Centre. 'Picture : Jonathan Gawthorpe

East Riding Council is funding a number of initiatives aimed at reducing loneliness in communities. One of those to benefit is the walking football team based at Haltemprice Leisure Centre. 'Picture : Jonathan Gawthorpe

The team has recently been awarded a £2,000 grant from East Riding Council’s connecting communities fund, which is aimed at addressing loneliness and isolation and promoting independence.

It has funded a range of community projects, including the Living Well Project – a community group in Hornsea; an IT project in Barmby Moor; and the Martongate Community Caféin Bridlington.

Each, like the walking football team, is aimed at keeping people connected – something which can be a challenge in some of the East Riding’s more ageing coastal communities.

Walking football is a relatively new sport that is rapidly growing across the UK. Aimed at over 50s, it follows the same rules at the regular game with the exception that players are not allowed to run or slide-tackle.

Mike Swann. Picture: Jonathan Gawthorpe

Mike Swann. Picture: Jonathan Gawthorpe

“It’s very tactical,” said Mr Swann, 62, of Leven. “I’d retired last year and wanted to do something a bit more energetic and make new friends, so this looked good. When you finish work, and have been in a male-dominated environment all your life, you need that company. I’ve always been a people person and this is a very social team.”

The team was initially set up by the council’s Let’s Get Moving Programme in July last year, but it became such a success that it became self-sufficient under the wing of Cottingham Rangers.

Now around 40 people are members of the team, and shared love of the game is helping them to build friendships where they might have felt isolated in the past.

The team is now run by a small committee of three, including Geoff Gollicker, the Rangers’ chairman, at Haltemprice Leisure Centre in Anlaby.

He said: “As far as health and well-being is concerned, walking football can do the power of good. We’ve had one chap come down, who is 86, his wife is 88 and has Alzheimer’s and is in a home. Coming down gives him a release.

“Last week there were seven of us, all injured, cheering on at the sidelines. People come down for the social side of it, the craic, and the camaraderie. It gets you out of the house and socialising.”

Coun Richard Harrap, East Riding Council’s portfolio holder for adult and carer services, said funding projects like the walking football team was crucial to keep people connected.

“Loneliness and isolation can cause a downward spiral that leads to people failing to take care of themselves, not wanting to go out and neglecting their diet - all things that lead to ill health,” he said.

“We have to address it as part of the preventative agenda.

“We do have particular issues in our coastal towns that people retire here, but if their husband or wife passes away, they can be left, possibly unable to drive, away from the town centre, and with no family nearby – loneliness and isolation can very quickly become an issue. Although funding schemes like this isn’t part of our statutory duty, we have to be pragmatic and support the schemes we can, so fewer people suffer in future.”

The Yorkshire Post’s campaign has received high-profile backing from people including Esther Rantzen, the founder of older people’s helpline The Silver Line, who claimed loneliness has become an “epidemic in the UK”.

Anyone interested in the team can contact Mr Gollicker for more information by emailing m12grg@hotmail.com.

THE YORKSHIRE Post has been campaigning for loneliness to be universally recognised as a health priority in our communities since February 2014.

According to research, living with loneliness is as detrimental to health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day and can contribute to dementia and high blood pressure.

In total, 91,300 older people in our region could be described as lonely most or all of the time.

In partnership with the Campaign to End Loneliness, we also want to encourage more people to volunteer for support services. For full details, visit yorkshirepost.co.uk/loneliness

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