Hello! I am really delighted to introduce Ann Fitzjohn to HealthyHappy50.com. We met on Twitter and Ann has been kind enough to answer a few questions about her sport, Walking Football.
Hello Ann! Please can you tell us more about Walking Football and how you got started?
I started playing in the autumn of 2016 and play every Friday evening for an hour at Wotton Sports Centre, Katherine Lady Berkeley’s School, Wotton-under-Edge, Gloucestershire. The session is run by Paul Hirons of ‘Soccer Champs’. I saw it advertised and went to the free taster session, along with about 10 – 12 men.
I hear a lot about Walking Football at the moment! How did it begin?
Walking Football was initially developed with the intent that it would be something that men over 50 could do if they had played football when they were younger, and would like to get back to doing something active. It was later opened up to women over 50 as well. When I first heard about it, I thought it was quite funny. I think that unless you actually have a go, you might think it is a bit boring or slow, but it certainly isn’t that.
Please tell us about your team and the sessions!
Every week there are about 10 – 14 chaps and I am the only female! I must say, I have no problem with this ratio! I don’t expect any special treatment, only the respect that I deserve as a fellow footballer! Well, I do make one exception, and that is that I won’t take a turn in goal (yet). As someone who has not played football all through their life (unlike most of the men), I am not happy to have a football smashed at my face or dive onto the floor to save a ball. It is just something I have never done. The guys are gradually trying to talk me into it though so I said I would have to cut my nails short before that happens! If I want to feel truly equal as a player I will to brave it in a couple of weeks!
Have you always been sporty or is this something new to you?
I was the first girl to play football at my primary school when I was 11. That was a long time ago and I can’t really remember much about it. After primary school I played all the usual secondary school sports and was always in the school team for rounders, netball and hockey. There were no girls’ football teams back then so I didn’t play again. I also played hockey throughout senior school (the on-grass version) and also after I had left school for a couple of years.
So football has always played a big part in your life in some way?My Dad was head groundsman for Bristol City FC so I was always going to work with him and watching first team and reserve team games from the dugout!! I have three sons so I was often out playing football with them when they were younger and then taking them to matches as they grew up. I helped my husband run one of the boys teams for several years. I have also been a season ticket holder for one of my local teams for many years, so football has played a big part in my life, even if I haven’t played in a team for 44 years!
What other exercise do you enjoy?
I have always tried to keep myself fit and have been a member of a gym wherever I have lived (I have moved around the country a fair bit as my husband was in the Royal Navy). Having had 3 giant babies, I did put quite a bit of weight on over time so when I was in my early 40s I decided to try running and basically lost 3 stone and got myself fit enough to run a couple of half marathons at the age of 50! These days I run 3 – 4 times a week, my average run being about 4 miles, plus I help with or run at (or both) Wotton parkrun on a Saturday morning.
What do you love most about Walking Football?
Well, I do look forward to Friday evenings so that I can go to the walking football session. If I have to miss it for any reason, I get annoyed which would suggest that I really enjoy it! I love it because it is one hour of my life where I am doing something completely different and burning calories at the same time! I suppose I also enjoy it because I have loved football all my life but never really had the chance to play it.
How has Walking Football enhanced your life?
It means I burn an extra 500 calories on a Friday night (I have worn my chest strap HRM to check this!) which helps a lot, especially if I make some of my ‘famous’ brownies at the weekend! It has also meant I am interacting with a whole new group of local people, plus I am learning new football skills every week.
What is your biggest achievement?
So far we haven’t played matches against others, but I feel just joining in is a pretty big achievement.
Do you have a competition or challenge upcoming?
We may soon form a team that plays a competitive match. That will be a challenge and I am looking forward to that day. But for now I am happy just playing once a week and keeping my skills up!
If someone was thinking of starting Walking Football but unsure she’d fit in or feel welcome, what would you say?
Well, this is a difficult one to answer. I would like to say this is an inclusive sport that accepts everyone. However, I do feel that you have to have a certain level of footballing knowledge or skill, because otherwise I don’t think you would enjoy it and the others playing (who have probably played a lot of football before) would probably not accept you so willingly. I feel that most of the guys accept me but I do sometimes (not often) feel that I am not getting the ball played to me because I am a girl! Sexist I know, but maybe just the truth. Again, you have to realise that these chaps have probably not, well, more than likely never, played football against or with a woman before! There are some women-only walking football teams and I think if you wanted to try it with limited footballing experience, this may be the option best suited to you.
If someone wanted to start Walking Football, what specific advice would you give to help her get started?
Walking Football teams seem to be cropping up in most cites and towns at the moment. Have a look at a local leisure centre or contact the local Football Association who will probably be able to give you information. I would say, if you do have some footballing experience, just go along to your local team, even if they are all men. It is a great sport and I am sure you will love it.
Do you have a life motto?
No, not really, but we have always said “Life is not a dress rehearsal”.
HealthyHappy50’s focus is health and happiness. What would you advise your 20 year old self about creating health and happiness?
Well, I’m not really sure because when you are 20 you can have big ideas about what is going to happen in your life and what you are going to do with it. I don’t think 20 year olds take too kindly to life advice so really I would probably just say “Appreciate what you have at each stage of your life and don’t eat too many chips!”.
Thank you so much for sharing your Walking Football story with us Ann and we wish you and your team all the very best! It is wonderful to see you enjoying the sport that has been so much part of your life. If you would like to follow Ann on Twitter, you can find her @itsbananafitz. Jo x