GMWF League Review
The Introduction Of Age Categorisation
Having started playing walking football in September 2014 and shortly afterwards competing in over 50’s tournaments, I soon realised that these competitions just weren’t a level playing field.
At the time I was almost 69 and giving away at least 10 years, and sometimes much more, wasn’t the ideal way to enjoy our developing sport. Even so the team I was involved with, despite having 2 or 3 players around my age range, still managed to win a few trophies.
As a year or so passed, the unfairness of it all struck me and I couldn’t understand why there were no tournaments for the older age categories. I had the idea of the possibility of starting an over 60’s mini league locally in the Manchester area.
I had a few contacts from playing in tournaments and the obvious one who I thought may be interested in the idea was Paul Gardner of Link4Life. Paul managed the Rochdale AFC Strollers team. I had played against Paul in a few tournaments, in fact marked him on a couple of occasions, probably literally I regret to say.
Paul had organised a couple of tournaments and his home venue at the Heywood Sports Village seemed an ideal place to run a mini league. I approached Paul regarding the idea and he was full of enthusiasm and fully embraced it.
This would be in the Autumn of 2016 and we got together to thrash out the details and decide the way forward. We approached the Manchester County FA regarding becoming sanctioned and affiliated to them and we are still awaiting a response!
Being ignored by the Manchester County FA, we decided to approach the Lancashire FA, and their Football Development Officer Andrew Whitaker, was fully supportive of our aims and we became sanctioned and affiliated to the Lancashire FA.
Over 60’s League
We had two teams to start with, Paul’s Rochdale team and my own team Vintage Celtic. We decided that the new league would commence in February 2017 and would run for four sessions in both Spring and Autumn seasons.
With our own contacts, we would aim for a minimum of four teams and hopefully six. Contact was made and we were surprised and delighted that so many were in favour of competing in this new over 60’s age category. Our vision of age categorisation was proven to be popular.
Before the season started we had enrolled a further six teams, AFC Blackpool Senior Seasiders, Chadderton FC WF, Fleetwood Town Flyers, Maccabi Old Codgers, Nash Amblers and Rochdale Striders.
In March Bolton Wanderers Walkers joined us to make it nine teams and April saw the league increase to ten teams with AFC Blackpool Very Senior Seasiders adding to our number.
Ten teams in a league was beyond our wildest dreams and as far as I am aware we became the first over 60’s league in the country.
We obviously had a few teething troubles in the first season but these were soon resolved and the league grew from strength to strength. At the moment we have fifteen teams competing in three divisions in the over 60’s league.
With further teams showing an interest in joining us, 2019 may see a fourth division in the over 60’s category.
Over 65’s Introduction
Next on the agenda was an over 65’s Cup Tournament if we could find enough teams interested. In the event we enrolled ten teams in this first tournament, held in June 2017, which again surprised us and gave us the idea of starting an over 65’s league the following year.
In this June tournament, of the ten teams in the over 60’s league, the two Blackpool sides, Chadderton, the two Rochdale sides and Vintage Celtic were joined by Manchester Community WF, Tameside Striders, Wakefield Wanderers and Widnes.
A second over 65’s Cup Tournament was held in November 2017, where eight teams took part, one team travelling from the midlands to compete.
In the Spring of 2018 we started an over 65’s league with seven teams competing, AFC Blackpool Senior Seasiders, Preston North End Senior Whites, Rochdale Striders, Rochdale AFC Strollers, Tameside Striders, Vintage Relics and Wakefield Wanderers.
The Autumn season of 2018 saw Vintage Relics and Wakefield Wanderers dropping out but Bury Relics, Chorley FC CT, Man City, Mancom and Third Space Seniors joined us to make it ten teams in two divisions of five. Again I believe we were the first in the country to form an over 65’s league.
Over 70’s Introduction
With two successful 60’s and 65’s leagues running, next up was an over 70’s Cup Tournament, with hopefully the promise of an over 70’s league in 2019.
In June 2018, nine teams entered our first over 70’s Cup Tournament, which again showed that the demand for this age category was there.
To reinforce the idea that an over 70’s league was indeed possible, our second over 70’s Cup Tournament was held in November 2018. Six teams competed and were all in favour of our forming an over 70’s league in 2019.
All the league tables from Spring 2017 can be found HERE.
The fact that teams are travelling considerable distances to compete in all age categories at Heywood has shown that age categorisation in walking football was definitely needed and why some tournament organisors still haven’t grasped the need for this is amazing.
Paul and myself couldn’t possibily have seen how popular this league has become. Obviously the fact that we have a great venue and excellent referees has helped and hopefully the efficient organisation has added to it’s popularity.
The after season presentations and buffet are always well attended and the raffle in support of the Stroke Association always raises a good amount for that charity.
What is pleasing to us all is that many of the players in all the leagues are now known to one another and the camaraderie amongst them is second to none. The fact that we are a non contact league is welcomed by the majority of players involved because at our age safety has to be paramount.
A big improvement on running and physicality was seen this year. In the 60’s and 65’s Spring leagues, 2 red cards and 13 blue cards were issued in the 183 matches played. In the Autumn 60’s and 65’s leagues, 1 red card and 7 blue cards were issued in the 200 matches played. Let’s hope the trend continues.
I just hope that this Greater Manchester Walking Football League continues long after I am gone and before that time comes I hope to be competing in the over 75’s league, which is the next step for us ageing footballers.
Thanks to all the wonderful players and teams that have supported us in the two years since our inception. Walking football has changed the lives of so many people since it was developed in 2011, it’s certainly changed mine.