Walking Football and Football Memories take centre stage at Clubs

28th September 2023

In the final article on the contribution of League of Ireland clubs towards the Sustainable development Goals (SDGs), we look at the work and impact of clubs among older members of the community and how clubs have provided opportunities to keep peopl

In the final article on the contribution of League of Ireland clubs towards the Sustainable development Goals (SDGs), we look at the work and impact of clubs among older members of the community and how clubs have provided opportunities to keep people involved in football and how this has helped people with their physical and mental well-being. This socially inclusive work specifically impacts the SDGs related to Health & Well-being, Reduced Inequalities and Sustainable Communities. 

League of Ireland clubs now share a common aim to help combat social isolation among local older people while also inadvertently providing local GPs with an excellent social prescription option for people interested in football who may be experiencing social isolation or milder mental health issues. Several LOI Clubs have started delivering this programme called the Football Bootroom. 

Loosely based on the “Men’s Sheds” concept, the football “Bootrooms” are informal social gatherings designed to offer social support, where people can find a meaning and a sense of purpose and belonging. The immediate advantage lies in the common interest shared by “bootroom” participants – a love of football. The Bootrooms offer people a pressure-free environment in which to share stories, showcase their skills, make new friends and connect with their communities. Research has shown this to improve physical and mental health. 

The “Bootrooms” usually take place at the football club stadium or meeting rooms or at other suitable local facilities. The venues are informal and relaxing environments where people with an interest in football can feel at ease and this is precisely what the football club setting offers. The Football Bootrooms feature several activities which participants can enjoy or engage in as follows: 

Walking Football 

The primary offering for participants is the Walking Football programme. A gentler version of the beautiful game aimed at men and women over 50, walking football is simply football without running. Playing the game at a more feasible pace eliminates barriers and provides greater accessibility to the sport. It is designed for participants who wish to continue to engage with football but who may have previously been forced to stop playing the game they love either as a result of age or injury.  

Walking Football provides an opportunity to socially engage and connect with peers in the community, effectively combatting social isolation and addressing mental health issues. Walking football has also been shown to provide many other great benefits such as increased fitness, weight loss, muscle growth, stamina and has proved to be hugely beneficial for men battling depression & anxiety. 

Bray Wanderers, Bohemian FC, Finn Harps, Cork City, Waterford FC and Wexford FC are among the clubs who have set up regular walking football sessions for local people and everyone is welcome.  

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Anecdotally, the favourite part of the Walking Football session is the cup of tea afterwards where people can relax and just chat about football or life in general. It’s an opportunity to share stories whether it be about football or otherwise. It’s during these moments that people often share stories and offer advice to each other and interestingly, these moments can encourage people to look after themselves better by perhaps resolving to get regular health checks or arranging to talk to someone about their overall well-being. These can be valuable moments for some people who may be experiencing loneliness due to family bereavements and serve to offer a valuable connection back into the local community. 

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Walking Football participants at Bray Wanderers Carlisle grounds. 

Football Memories 

These are social gatherings of people which provide an opportunity for discussion and activities using football memorabilia, paraphernalia and other media to spark conversations among older people interested in football. Importantly, the programme is dementia friendly. 

Resources such as a Football Memory box are used which include Football Legends cards, old jerseys and match programmes to start the discussion while items to stimulate sensory memories such as wintergreen / deep heat used by players to warm muscles pre match can be used to take people back in time to the dressing room banter.  

Clubs also involve guest speakers in the form of club legends from the past which adds a nice touch to the session and an opportunity to mix with lifelong fans to exchange stories about matches and club characters from a bygone era. 

The Football Memories activity is dementia friendly and people experiencing dementia and their carers are very welcome to join the group. This is an excellent opportunity to keep them connected with friends and family through the medium of football because while they may experience issues with short term memory, the football memorabilia can stimulate positive past memories and help them stay part of the conversation.