When you get to 50 you might think you are too old for football but Burton Albion Community Trust is encouraging people to rediscover the game at an older age as a way to boost health and fitness. NIGEL POWLSON decided to give it a go.
THERE comes a time in every footballer’s life, whether he’s named Pele or Powlson, when it feels like the right time to hang up your boots.
It might be an arthritic twinge in one of your knees, or possibly the way the opposition’s 18-year-old winger nutmegs you and leaves you trailing in his wake but age, eventually, has to catch up with you.
Thankfully, there is at last an answer for footballers of a certain age, where the spirit is now more willing at times than the flesh. Burton Albion Community Trust has recognised the desire of middle aged men to feel the thrill of a ball at their feet and have now set up football sessions aimed squarely at the over 50s.
It’s a chance to enjoy the game again but where you can set your own pace, free from the pressure to keep up with team mates half your age. No-one is going to mind if you ask to go in goal for a bit of a rest or drift to the sidelines to get your wind back. Although that’s not to say there isn’t a bit of quality and commitment shown on the pitch – it’s just a bit more measured.
The sessions fit in with the community trust’s overall ethos of reaching out to all sections of society and offering chances to improve fitness in an environment that’s welcoming and supportive.
There’s also sound advice handed out on warming up and cooling down, ensuring that aches and strains are kept to a minimum.
So when the invitation came to drop in on a session and see what it was all about, I jumped at the chance. I’d like to tell you that my colleagues at the Burton Mail selected me because of my footballing pedigree but, in truth, I was the only one old enough to qualify.
Nevertheless, I was ready and willing to play my first game in more than 12 years.
Up until my late 30s I had always played football and while a succession of England managers and Football League scouts were immune to my talents, I always fancied myself as a bit of a Franz Beckenbauer – just with less class . . . and composure . . . and talent.
Left back was my position – even though I have always been very right footed. I’d like to believe that this was me pioneering the system later used by Bayern Munich where Arjen Robben would play on the ‘wrong side’ but it was more to do with the fact that when I was eight I worked out that hardly anyone had a good left foot and nobody wanted to play defence. So when I said I was a left back I got into school teams by default.
Still I held onto the left back slot through my school career, into university and in a couple of works teams, only occasionally allowing my status to be turned into ‘left back in the dressing room’.
Add in a bit of five a side here and there and football managed to keep middle aged spread at a reasonable distance until I had a couple of nasty little knee injuries at the same time I lost a bit of pace in my late 30s. So I took up running instead to keep fit, safe in the knowledge that I was unlikely to receive a crunching tackle from a passing pedestrian in that sport.
But I have missed football and having two girls who didn’t see the attractions of a ‘kickabout’ didn’t help.
So on a recent Tuesday night I found myself at the rather impressive sports hall at de Ferrers (it had nothing like that when I was at the old Wulfric in the 1970s) and got out my second best Burton Albion shirt (I’m saving the best one for Wembley!) and joined a session.
The over 50s football is generally overseen by Andrew Robertson from the community trust, who qualifies on age himself, but today we have Brewers striker Gary Alexander and defender David Gray, making guest visits.
It’s Gary who leads the warm ups – some light jogging mixed with stretching very much as you see the Albion players do pre-match. He then put us through some routines with a ball, which helped tune us up for the match as well as sharpening our ball skills.
Then the first game was on.
And it really was like riding a bike – it all came back to me remarkably quickly. I found myself naturally ghosting into space, making overlapping runs, holding formation. After one thrilling move in which I tried a daring filck off the heel into the net (brilliantly saved alas) I was sure I heard someone shout “Messi’. Although upon reflection it may have been “messy”.
I was also thwarted by the post in my attempts to get on the scoresheet but apart from my lack of goals all the joys of the great game were back there for me to enjoy.
I even managed to skillfully prevent an attacking move by trapping Gary Alexander in a corner of the sports hall. Some people no doubt will feel that the way he then turned on a six pence and sidestepped me showed the gulf in class between us but I knew I had to let him by – after all, I didn’t want to dent his confidence ahead of the play offs!
FOOTBALL AND FITNESS
Andrew Robertson, who looks after the over 50s football for the Burton Albion Community Trust, was keen to see the sessions start.
He says: “I was looking for a way of playing football again because we all miss it. I’m 58 now and even the over 35 leagues are full of youngsters. So we talked about setting this up and it seemed to hit a chord.
“We tried it out and saw that there are people out there who want to come every week and who love re-engaging with the game.
“We all start off slowly, take our time and look after each other so, whatever your level, you will enjoy it.
“But you don’t have to come every week and there’s no long-term commitment.”
Andy Taylor, Burton Albion Community Trust manager, adds: “The programme is part of our health and wellbeing theme. We are trying to re-engage with people who are perhaps not doing the levels of activity they once might have done. We are using football as that vehicle. It’s low intensity football but still competitive. There’s a social element as well.
“A lot of the people have played in the past but some haven’t. Our hope is it will have an impact on their future activity levels and their wider health agenda.
“It’s something that’s appealing. I believe that once people pluck up the courage to come through the door the first time, they will come back a second and third time. We are working closely with the football club to get players attached, we have had a sports scientist down and we have also been to St George’s Park.
“We have told people what to do with their bodies to recover, especially if they are playing again for the first time.
“Sessions like this can only be of benefit and we want to encourage numbers to grow as we think it can be a very successful model. I would just encourage people to give it a go. The first session is free of charge, so there’s nothing to lose.
“Exercise and movement make a big difference from increased confidence to bringing a smile to people’s faces.”
The sessions generally take place at de Ferrers, St Mary’s Drive, Burton, on Tuesdays at 6pm. Anyone wanting more information can call Burton Albion on 01283 565938.
WHAT YOU SAY
“I have come from the start and I’m really enjoying it. It’s nice to get a ball at your feet again after all these years. Having three daughters I have not had much chance. It’s 30 years since I played. I do cycle but this is definitely helping with my fitness.”
“I came along to see if I could still kick a ball. I haven’t kicked a ball seriously since 1998. It’s a step back in time and I’m really enjoying it. I thought I was reasonably fit for a 60-year-old but I have discovered there are parts of my body which aren’t.
“The opportunity to play at St George’s Park and on the pitch at the Pirelli Stadium at half-time was brilliant.
“You just have to remember you aren’t 25 anymore and to take things at your own pace. We have a variety of abilities but we are all getting better and fitter together.”
“I wanted to get a bit fitter to keep up with my grandson when he’s playing. I thought it was going to be walking football but it isn’t - but after 10 weeks the fitness is coming back and the recovery time is getting less. And if you get a bit puffed in the game you just take a rest in goal. I never really played football before, it was rugby at school, so I’m really enjoying this.”