The champions of Cornwall’s youngest football competition – which is competed for by the Duchy’s oldest players – will be crowned next month, writes Peter Harlow.
The first ever Age UK Cornwall Walking Football League will come to a conclusion on September 11 with a finals day at Newquay Tretherras School when all 11 clubs involved in the league’s inaugural season will have the chance to lift some silverware.
The league is split into East and West Divisions and the finals day will see the top three sides in each section playing in a round-robin tournament, with the top two on the day playing off in the final to see who will become the first walking football champions of Cornwall.
Meanwhile, the five sides who fail to qualify for the main competition will play their own tournament at the same venue on the same day for the chance to win the league shield.
Walking football is aimed at players aged over 50 and is a gentler, but no less competitive, version of the beautiful game. Though familiar in many respects to the game we all know, the rules and playing conditions are adapted to suit the age and requirements of older players.
For example, there are smaller pitches, fewer players in a team (usually six but possibly five or or seven, depending upon each competition’s rules), minimal contact and no playing the ball above head height. And, of course, no running.
Cornish league plays catch-up after covid
The game has been established across the country for about ten years but, despite earlier efforts to get a Cornish league set up, it has only been possible to get things going now that covid restrictions have been ended.
The Age UK league runs in the summer and consists of three tournaments each in the West and East sections, with the West games taking place at Camborne College and the East ones at Launceston. The final tournaments of the regular season take place this Sunday (August 14) and will confirm who will play in the cup and who will play in the shield on finals day.
Lanivet Inn lead the way in the East and look set to be joined in the cup by Morwenstow and Saints St Austell, with St Austell and Dobwalls heading for the shield. In the West, Penwith Nomads, Falmouth and Helston Athletic are the current top three, with the shield places currently occupied by Roseland, Troon and St Agnes – but all that could change after Sunday’s tournament.
Kevin Solly, who holds many roles in Cornish walking football, including being the secretary and treasurer of Saints St Austell – one of the two walking football clubs in the town – says that the league has been a long time coming, mainly because of covid delays, but he is positive about how this first season has been.
“My club are playing in the East section and it’s great to see so many gentlemen of a certain age playing football again,” he said. “The introduction of walking football has, without doubt, had an impact on the physical and mental health of so many and the introduction of the league has added a competitive edge. My Dad retired from football at 29, while I’m 70 and hoping I might still be in with a chance of getting a medal.
“If someone told me 30 years ago that I’d still be playing competitive football at the age of 70 I would be calling an ambulance for them!”
But Kevin added: “The downside for me personally is the age range being set at 50-plus as giving an opponent 20 years is a bit of a disadvantage!
“While I think the Cornwall FA and league head Barry Cornelius have done a great job in pushing this project forward, I still think its continued success will hinge on the competency of the referees – we need a cadre of properly trained walking football refs.”
Chris Jones (see image above), the driving force behind Troon WFC in the West section, agrees that there have been some teething problems in this first season but said: “Nothing has dampened the enthusiasm and passion of all those participating.”
He also believes that the age mix of players needs to be tweaked. He said: “This first season has catered for teams with players of a minimum age of 50. However, that has not stopped players in their 60s and even 70s stepping out onto the playing field to represent their teams.
“Future plans will surely include the setting up of leagues catering for teams of over 60s, 70s and possibly over 75s should there be a desire for it.
“And the success of the England Lionesses at Euro 22 will hopefully encourage more women to take up the game in all of its many forms, especially walking football, and all clubs in Cornwall should be actively seeking to facilitate this.”
He added: “A bright and promising start to the walking football league has been made and the FA should now be proactive in ensuring that this encouraging beginning is successfully built upon so that the game can be grown quickly and sustainably in order to make up lost ground on other counties across both England and Wales.”
A lot of those thoughts are echoed by Steve Bailey, the chairman of Penwith Nomads, who currently lead the way in the West Division.
He said: “The early feedback has been generally good, with some of the early hiccups hopefully being ironed out.
“The football on display has been very good, with tight games played in a competitive but fair way. The standard of football has improved over the past couple of years and the tournaments so far have generally been good-natured with players from most clubs mixing with each other.”
So Cornwall’s newest competition has been generally well received by those involved but who will be smiling the most when the prizes are handed out on finals day? Who will be the first champions of walking football in Cornwall? Head for Newquay on September 11 to find out. You might just be surprised by the standard and the competitiveness of the games on offer.
[Featured image: Peter Harlow / Cornwall Sports Media]