Visit to the recently launched Arsenal walking football for people with Parkinson’s.
By Martin Sewell
I responded to an advert on the Parkinson’s UK website who have teamed up with Arsenal Community Foundation to invite people nationwide to come and talk to their newly formed walking football group for people with Parkinson’s.
We offered to talk about our walking football sessions at Solihull Walking Football Centre and the impact it has had on those attending our Monday morning sessions. I wrote a
summary of the last couple of years in the life of the Solihull sessions and a couple of weeks later received an invitation from Arsenal Football Club.
Along with another Solihull player Pete Grimshaw, we travelled down to the Emirates Stadium, the indoor facilities are adjoined to the stadium and as we expected were very good.
The local Parkinson’s players arrived for the regular hour and a half session, the first half hour was a social gathering which has been used to invite guest speakers to come and speak about a variety of subjects. With the help of some photos, I spoke about how the Solihull sessions had grown to where they are today.
It was obvious that the issues at both clubs were the same.
‘I’m sorry health and safety says we can’t let you play in case you fall over’
I was told aged 52, I believed that was the end of my playing days.
The opportunity to play football whilst trying to manage the symptoms of Parkinson’s is
challenging, at the Emirates as in Solihull, everyone understands the difficulties others
present are experiencing. The coaches at the Emirates led the second half hour, a warm up using exercises which are suited to helping maintain the activity of a person with Parkinson’s.
Pete and I came prepared with our kit, our opportunity to say for evermore that.
‘We had played at the Emirates!’
Knowing the walking football coaches understand why you can’t make it to the pass, your facial expression is not because you’re not interested, or your quiet voice is not you whispering to your teammates, freezing, shuffling, inconsistency when playing, helps us as players to keep our main issue, anxiety under control.
Talking to the local players made Pete and I think back to the first months at Solihull. Football bringing people together initially to play football. Something most of us had thought would never happen again.
There is no age limit to players in either team 30 to 78 years of age.
A quote from one of our members
‘My family were amazed that at the age of 75, I got my first ever pair of football boots for Christmas!’
You can’t measure capability on the day, when the whistle blows a player struggling to put one foot in front of the other changes without explanation a member said, ‘I don’t understand why I don’t shuffle whilst on the pitch’.
Arsenal were preparing for their first ever tournament at Watford on the coming Saturday, all these new experiences are starting to raise the anxiety levels. We played alongside our fellow players without any worry, prejudice, or embarrassment. Practicing tactics and techniques with one of the coaches who was clearly trying to get the best out of us.
We had talked earlier in the session about the fantastic opportunity we have had on two
occasions, to play at St George’s Park, the FA’s England training centre near Burton, in the Cure Parkinson’s Cup.
We also told them the story of one of Solihull players who came to our Awareness Day who had been diagnosed six years previous, but not kicked a football since. He is now the Captain of the England Parkinson’s Walking Football Team. He said,
“This, quite simply, has been life changing for me. I have a whole new group of friends and my wellbeing has improved hugely. The camaraderie, kindness and support I witness each week is worth more than all the pills I take!”
The game over, we thanked everyone for a fantastic experience. We must also thank my brother Anthony for driving us there and back , and with James for being our carers on the day. It couldn’t have happened without their support.
This is part of a rapidly growing activity being supported by organisations at the top of the sport, Arsenal, down to the grassroots of teams in our area such as Solihull or Birmingham (as we are also known). Worcester Movers and Shakers, Kingswinford, training at Redditch and the women’s Parkinson’s Pioneers team are just two new shoots in this fantastic activity.
We hope Arsenal will take up the invitation to come and play at Brick Kiln Lane.
We are all different, but we are brought together because we love to play football, we don’t have the clubhouse the size of the fantastic Emirates but that doesn’t matter when the whistle blows, we have that quality green artificial pitch which still brings so much unexpected joy and feeling of being in a team, a club, an extended family.
Remember it’s not about ability or age, it’s about staying active, being involved with others, getting out and about, enjoying your quality of life, spending time with your family and friends.
This is one time that I almost think I’m glad I have Parkinson’s because if I hadn’t, I wouldn’t have experienced all these things. I did say almost!