Humans of Grassroots Sport | Jackie Watkins
14 March 2019 • By - Will Chrimes
Read time 3 minutes
For our latest Humans of Grassroots Sport story, we spoke with Tooting and Mitcham Community Sports Club manager Jackie Watkins about the success of AFC’s Walking Football project.
Walking Football has been hosted and run from Tooting and Mitcham Community Sports Club for the past six years. This grassroots activity has become hugely popular within the local community, but it wasn’t always this way when AFC Wimbledon first got in touch.
Most people assume that we’d be rivals with AFC given our locality, but we formed a fantastic partnership as we both genuinely appreciate just how important it is to encourage locals to lead an active lifestyle.
AFC were looking to launch a Walking Football team and we were able to provide the perfect place thanks to our fantastic facilities here. Our 3G pitch is ideal and the extra give from the surface helps those getting back into sport and the older players. The 3G absorbs a lot of the shock for joints and takes some of the strain off.
Today we have around 20 people coming to each Wednesday session and that is a wonderful achievement for all those involved in putting on the games. I remember our opening few attempts during the first three months and we would have two or three people showing up. It wasn’t looking good, but AFC and ourselves persevered to turn it all around.
Wednesday nights are so much more than just the Walking Football. It’s a social experience that significantly helps physical and mental wellbeing for our players. Isolation and loneliness are prevalent in our local area, especially with older men. Walking Football gives people the chance to get out for some fresh air, exercise and enjoy spending time with others. It’s an hour out on the pitch and the same in our social area, where we have a bar!
Many of our players didn’t have a reason to get out of the house before we launched the programme. People feel much better about themselves having got out and done some physical activity. It helps people coming back from a long layoff from various ailments including heart murmurs or knee injuries.
Many of our players have struck up friendships at football and away from the pitches. Progress has been made on the pitch too. Our teams have won tournaments and even travelled abroad for tours recently. This has helped people form lifelong friendships and created a support structure that didn’t exist before.
Walking Football has taught us a lot too about not giving up. Those early cold evenings with two or three players meant it would have been easy to drop it, but we didn’t and we’re so grateful to AFC for the help. Now we’re in a solid position to keep giving back to our local community and really make an impact in physical and mental happiness.