How virtual Walking Football forged friendships during lockdown

PUBLISHED: 18:00 28 September 2020

Marie, left, Kiera, centre, and Jane, right, train in Yatton.

Marie, left, Kiera, centre, and Jane, right, train in Yatton.

We Are Undefeatable

Lockdown has been tough for many and, aside from keyworkers, there may be one shining light – Zoom calls.

The Yatton Trio and England Over 60's Walking Football manager, Stuart Longworthy.The Yatton Trio and England Over 60's Walking Football manager, Stuart Longworthy.

Since March, almost every activity has become virtual through Zoom, from quizzes and socials, to work meetings, murder mysteries and pilates.

One activity which did not seem likely to take off on Zoom was walking football – but it did exactly that.

Stuart Longworthy.Stuart Longworthy.

The We Are Undefeatable project put together a squad of 14 players living with long-term health conditions, many of whom had not taken part in a sport for years, if at all.

Jane, aged 64, Marie, aged 60, and Kiera, aged 62, from Yatton signed up for the group to improve their health and fitness.

Kiera will compete for the White team.Kiera will compete for the White team.

Speaking to the trio over Zoom, they explained how they have trained for football over video calls.

They said: “We attend a Zoom meeting on a Thursday, our manager Stuart Longworthy goes over some drills and we repeat them.”

Marie suffers with spinal issues but has developed her footballing ability over lockdown.Marie suffers with spinal issues but has developed her footballing ability over lockdown.

The women took up walking football before lockdown – in January – with both Clevedon and Yatton Walking Football Clubs and practice regularly on Rock Road in their village.

“It is much more than just football though,” they stressed.

“We all have different health conditions – people like us are shielding and it gives us a way of keeping together.”

Kiera has had a kidney transplant while Jane has chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and Marie suffers from spinal issues.

Jane said: “It is also nice to compete as women, especially at our age. We need more women in sport and I think the reason for the lack of women in walking football is that older women were told not to do sports when we were younger.

“But I grew up with brothers and hated that I had to go to cookery classes when they got to play football.”

The person entrusted to rally the group through lockdown is England over 60s walking football manager, Stuart Longworthy – and he has relished the opportunity.

“At first I was immensely proud that We Are Undefeatable approached me – then I was thinking ‘what on earth is virtual walking football going to look like?’ Stuart confessed.

He added: “Now we are eight weeks into the 12-week programme and this is more than sport.

“This has been a hard time for all of us and the Zoom calls have just shown how powerful a team can be.

“The Yatton ladies have proved that too – going to the park together and practising drills, getting ready for what, hopefully, ends in a real match between the group.”

Stuart divided his squad into two sides, reds and whites – something Jane, Marie and Kiera have taken very seriously.

“We are so competitive, this has brought out the worse in us,” they revealed.

The reds and whites were scheduled to square up against each other on October 2 or October 9 with a venue yet to be decided.

However, the latest Government coronavirus restrictions have put plans on hold.

Kiera said: “We are always watching the news to see what the situation is.

“We are hoping and praying that we get to meet the rest of the squad and have our match.”

Marie, in particular, has been itching to show off her new-found ability after suffering from spinal problems.

She said: “I am a referee in training after starting in January but I might even play now because the training has helped my balance and my confidence.”

Both Marie’s teammates agreed with her saying: “It has done wonders for her confidence.

“She used to say ‘I cannot do this or that’ but now her mindset is completely different. She has come on leaps and bounds through this project and it has been brilliant to watch.”

The women are waiting to find out whether the showdown can go ahead, but even if they cannot play, the strangers We Are Undefeatable brought together will continue to perform as a team – either on the pitch or over Zoom.

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