4. Cornwall Or The Costa.
I mentioned in a previous blog that Walking Football has exploded in the UK over the past couple of years, mainly thanks to the efforts of Chesterfield FC and my new footballing hero 78 year old Eric Bagshaw. Now with a big nod to Englands footballing history it seems that the game is being exported to the world. I’ve been reading reports that teams have started up in Portugal, France, Germany, Japan and of course here in Spain.
A brief search of the internet shows there are clubs in Marbella and Benalmedina to the south and further clubs to the north of us along the Costa Blanca and Costa Del Sol. No doubt these clubs were formed by Ex-Pats similar to ourselves who have been spreading the word through healthy exercise and a general passion for the game.
This got me thinking about why these people choose to live abroad, and the why chose our area in particular. If you sit in any bar cafe or restaurant long enough with a group of ex-pats and eventually the questions will be asked about why we are here. With me the answer is simple, I’m here for a better quality of life, a slower pace of life, and hopefully an improvement in our general health and well-being. But others came here for many different reasons. One of the early chiringuito beach bars in Mojacar was opened by a someone responsible for the Great Train Robbery. I hasten to add that it was opened in the 70s upon his release.
A quick poll amongst our players revealed that we live predominately in the areas of Los Gallardos, Turre and Mojacar. These areas are not as easily recognised as Marbella and Salou, but thankfully they are also not so densely populated. We are fortunate that being slightly off the beaten track has slowed the pace of “progress” somewhat and that “real Spain” is still at our doorstep.
The population of the combined municipalities of Mojacar, Turre and Los Gallardos is just over 12,500 people in an area of some 215 square kilometers. We are blessed with the surrounding mountains, miles of sandy beaches, rugged coast lines and protected national park. When speaking with friends and family in the UK I often describe the area as being similar to Cornwall, but with absolutely fantastic weather.
So I checked my comparison and guess what! The town of St Ives in Cornwall has a population of just 1,000 fewer people all crammed into an area of only a quarter of the size. If you need another reason why you want to live in Spain feel free to use this one.
With such a small population drawn from so many different nationalities it makes the achievement and growth of FC Los Amigos quite extraordinary. Then again I can’t really imagine over 30 middle aged men playing football on a fantastic 3G pitch at 9.00am, outdoors in the middle of February in St Ives. I wonder if they have a team – I’ll find out and let you know.
3. Chesterfield FC. Thank You.
I mentioned previously that once you have been bitten by the football bug it leaves you with a life-long itch that just has to be scratched. It would seem that just like an ex-boxer needs to get back into a ring, ex-professional footballers still need to get back on the pitch. During the past year Walking Football has exploded in the UK to such an extent that even seasoned pros are lacing up their trainers in the same way that we do at FC Los Amigos.
The past year has seen many professional football clubs promoting Walking Football through their community departments enabling them to engage with larger sections of their supporter base and improve relationships within their local communities. At this rate it surely wont be long before Manchester United launch their Surrey Community Initiative.
Last February Derby County Community Trust fielded a team in the Kenya Cup which included former pros such as Archie Gemmill, Roger Davies, Roy McFarland and Kevin Hector. Not to be outdone former Aston Villa pros Shaun Teale, Ian Taylor and Bryan Small featured on the team sheets against ex-Birmingham City players Michael Johnson and Dave Regis in the EFL Trust competition held in June at Villas impressive training centre.
Ex-Celtic skipper Andy Lynch, winner of 3 league titles and 2 Scottish Cups, is also a regular “walker” and continues to play every week. This is what he had to say about our game, I’m sure I’ve heard it somewhere before:
“I have to admit that I was very cynical about walking football. Was it similar to the traditional five a sides? Can you tackle? Can you even get a sweat up? That was important to me. I didn’t just want to stand about. Well, after several weeks playing I am thoroughly enjoying it. And yes I am getting a great work out as well!
Enough about ex-pros, the biggest success story in Walking Football comes from the unlikely source of Chesterfield FC Community Trust. Chesterfield FC run the aptly named Ex-Spires Walking Football Team.
Ex-Spires became the subject of ITV’s Tonight show last year. Among the players featured was 78 year old Eric Bagshaw who took up walking football six years ago after being diagnosed with diabetes. Eric described the improvements in his health since he has been playing our version of the beautiful game:
“I could feel myself getting stronger each week, and I just kept working at it, just loved it,” he said.
Continuing the story of when he faced a medical examination, Eric adds:
“Doctor came down and he says, ‘Now then Eric, what you been doing this last six months?’
“So I said, ‘I’ve joined an exercise club, football.’ He says, ‘Brilliant, because what that’s done for you is fantastic. Your diabetes has gone, your blood pressure’s normal, your kidneys, your liver, your heart’s perfect. You’ve got the body of a 40-year-old man.’ Those were his exact words.”
It’s worth noting that it was Chesterfield FC that “invented” Walking Football through their Community Trust. In 2010/11 they received funding from the Football Foundation that had to be used for something which would have low injury risk, cardio vascular benefits and help develop friendship groups, especially among older people.
I’d say they got it absolutely right – thank you Chesterfield FC. My footballing hero is now 78 year old Eric Bagshaw.
2. Bryan The Snail.
Many of you will recall Bryan The Snail from the children's television programme The Magic Roundabout which was on our TV screens from 1963 until 1977. Bryan was a brightly coloured gastropod mollusc that shuffled amongst other weird characters created by the drug fuelled French spirit Serge Danot. Bryan wasn’t the quickest but he was always “there.”
I was watching a Premier League game a few days ago and what struck me most about the game was the incredible pace the players have these days. I’m not really sure that this is a good thing or not. Certainly in todays game I think great players such as Jan Molby, Glen Hoddle, or Matt Le Tissier might struggle to shine as brightly as they did. That’s a bad thing, so my opinion is that it shouldn’t all be about pace. Yes it helps, but please not at the expense of creative genius.
This then got me thinking about other slower players that I remember. Greats such as Bobby Moore, Paul McGrath or Jonny Giles were never blessed with any sort of pace, but they never played in the West Country. Brian The Snail did, he shuffled amongst lots of weird characters in The West Country.
Just as The Magic Roundabout faded from our screens is 1977 Brian Williams was making his move into the big time with a transfer from Bury to Queens Park Rangers. If Johan Cruyff is the father of Dutch football then Brian Williams is the father of Walking Football, simply because that’s the way he played it. The knowledgable people at Loftus Road obviously didn’t fully appreciate the rather laboured manner of Brian’s play because after only 19 games he headed west down the M4 to spend the next 9 years filling the left back position for Bristol Rovers, Bristol City and Swindon Town.
Brian played 172 league games for Bristol Rovers in a four year period that included 21 goals, but less than 10 minutes into his debut he had been christened Brian The Snail. He was actually a very good player, a squat tough tackling left back with bags of skill and tricks. He also looked like a good player complete with mandatory perm and tache befitting of the early 80’s. But the lack of pace was clear to see. He wasn’t a lazily slow player, quite the opposite. His legs would move in a whirl and his arms would pump manically, its just that as manic as he was it seemed like the rest of the game around him was going on in slow motion. He just didn’t seem to cover the ground that his efforts deserved. But he was always “there.”
Brian was always there with the last ditch tackle, always there to whip in a cross when the ball was played back from the bye-line, always there if the ball dropped 30 yards out to fire in a shot, always there to take the pressure penalty, always there to backup his team mates when it all kicked off, but never there to make an overlapping run with a burst of pace.
The crowd at Eastville loved him for all of that and they loved him even more for the obvious effort that he put in to disguise his basic lack of not actually being able to do anything quickly.
Brian would be perfect for FC Los Amigos, lots of effort, a lot of enjoyment, and everything happening very slowly.
I mentioned that Brian also played for the other West Country teams. Before joining Bristol Rovers Brian played 99 games at Swindon Town where he is fondly remembered as “Animal”. An obvious reference to his tough tackling and his resemblance to a drumming muppet.
After leaving Bristol Rovers in 1985 he took a break from proper football and joined Bristol City for 2 years. His return to real football saw him finish his career at Shrewsbury Town after a further 65 league games taking his total league appearances to a very creditable 591 games.
Proof, if any was ever needed, that you don’t have to run to play football.
As we are living on the edge of Europe's driest area, officially a desert in geographical terms, there are all sorts of bugs that bite here. But the bug I refer to is the one that bites at an early age. That bite stays with you for life. It becomes a constant itch and irritation that brings both pain and pleasure when you scratch it – and you always have to scratch it. That bug is of course football, the beautiful game that gives you the highest of highs and then smacks you down with the cruellest of kicks.
As a young boy growing up in Bristol the “thwanging” sound of a plastic Wembley Trophy being kicked against a wall, or the rattle of it booming into a garage door, was like a call to prayer in our street. The first sound of it would bring the boys flooding out of their safe houses dressed ready for battle in last years school shoes and jumpers knitted by nan.
“Mum, I going out to play football with my mates!” would be the shout. Minutes later teams were picked and the first half was underway, the second would be played the following day if anyone could remember the score at half time. I loved it.
By the age of seven I was playing in the Cubs team (76th Kingswood Congregational). Our first game was a close affair against St Annes in which we lost 24-0. My dad suggested I should try Cricket instead as keeping score might be easier. At the age of nine I was a commanding centre half in the primary school team, I was commanding because I was the only one who would head the heavy orange ball. By this time my dad would stand behind the goal telling me when to play and when to put my foot through it. I loved it.
At secondary school I was banned from playing for the school side because I refused to play for the Rugby team. I didn’t like rugby, and it got in the way of playing junior football on a Saturday for Abbotonians, if you have a spare hour ask me about the games against Ian Holloway and Keith Curle. The school ban didn’t really affect me because at age fourteen I was playing men’s football on a Sunday morning with my older brother. I loved it, and I had the bruises to prove it.
Soon Bristol Rovers came calling. Not calling after my football abilities you understand, just calling and pulling me in that way your favourite team does. Apart from a few seasons playing in the Bristol and District league, sometimes the Somerset Premier, and a few games in the Western League, my Saturdays were spent at Eastville and Twerton Park kicking every ball on the terraces watching the boys in the famous blue and white quarters.
Because of Rovers Sunday mornings became my active football time, first just me and then with my two boys. My two boys
(31 and 27) still play with a real sense of enjoyment and they follow the mighty Bristol Rovers with the same fervour and passion that still glues me to the radio and television every Saturday.
What has led me to write and ramble about such distant memories you might ask.
Well yesterday lunchtime I dropped into one of Mojacar's many watering holes and bumped into Peter “Dutch” Holland who was watching his beloved Aston Villa play against their bitter rivals Birmingham City.
Dutch was twitchy for most of the game, not taking in his surroundings or entering into much conversation, and in truth not really enjoying himself because that's the effect a local derby has on you. It wasn't until Villa scored their second goal that he actually relaxed and was finally able to appreciate his teams dominance over their neighbours.
The fact that they won wasn't down to the two well taken goals of course, it was all down to his lucky socks. One was claret and the other one was blue. Dutch was a perfect example of being bug-bitten way back when the game meant so much to a small boy in Birmingham.
“What a great game!” He said at the final whistle when the game had been anything but. That's the thing about football, the games you win are always great while the games you lose are quickly forgotten.
I smiled all the way home remembering the great times watching Bristol Rovers thrash Bristol City, I honestly don’t remember the games we lost to them with any great clarity. Then I remembered scoring my first competitive goal for Hill Street Primary against Courtney Primary with dad watching on from behind the goal, and I smiled a little more.
Well that was yesterday and today I’ve had a further reminder of the wonderful bug that bites. I've just introduced three people to the joys of walking football and FC Los Amigos have just welcomed three new members.
A couple of hours kicking a ball around soon brought footballing memories back to them and they quickly joined in with the banter over coffee afterwards. I’m sure that over the coming weeks the legs will slowly start to catch up with the mind and they will become active members of our wonderful Walking Football Club.
FC Los Amigos are certainly going from strength to strength as more and people discover the fact that you can still play and enjoy a form of football after the age of 50.
The best bit about it for me is that when it's dark and cold on miserable Monday in the UK, as people trudge off to work or do their best to endure the mundane commute, at the age of fifty three I can still say: