It was barely 15 months ago that the first steps were made to promote walking football in Wales at international level. To this end, managers were appointed with support from WFA; the managers organised a series of trials in North and South Wales at over 50 and 60 level, finally culminating in two squads (first team and shadow team) at each age group. The first Internationals were held in matches against England in Barry in September and, whilst the results were disappointing, the matches themselves represented an important milestone in Wales' development as an international entity in walking football. And we were acknowledged to be excellent hosts to our English visitors.
The introduction of regular training sessions, fine-tuning of the selection process and attendance at a number of regional tournaments produced some better performances in the return matches against England at St George's Park, but still emphasised the gap between ourselves and our rather more experienced neighbours. Manager Martin Ransom and coach Lee Breeze (now joint managers) set out to produce a series of structured coaching sessions for the over 60s squad. The over 50s squad had a more difficult development, but both squads prepared for the first ever “open” Walking Football World Cup tournament held and the inaugural Walking Football European Nations Cup (“Euros”). The World Cup was held at Leyton Orient’s ground on June 1 under the auspices of IWFF; the Euros were held at Chesterfield F.C's Proact stadium on 8 June having been organised by FIWFA.
The Walking Football World Cup was a tournament in which many strong international teams competed (they included within their ranks notable ex-professional players, such as Steve Archibald of Spurs and Scotland). Wales over 60s were deserved winners, after comfortably winning the group stage and beating a strong French side in the final. Wales over 50s also performed well in a tournament of 14 international teams; the over 50s only lost out on penalties in the semi-finals, after leading with minutes to go. Whilst we have seen some negative comments about the prestige of this event, the fact remains that the achievements of the finalists received considerable positive publicity on both sides of the English Channel and elsewhere, which has helped considerably to raise the profile of walking football generally.
Wales were less fortunate at the Euros, the following weekend. For the over 60s team, a missed late penalty and one more blue card was all that denied us a place in the final (played between the only two other nations at the tournament, namely England and Italy). The two over 50s games showed that more work is needed to develop strength in depth in the Welsh squad - we inevitably have a much smaller pool of players to choose from than certain countries with much larger populations.
Wales were further represented at over 65 level at the International Super Masters 5-a-side World Cup held in Paris in May and we also took a team to the Isle of Man to help encourage the development of walking football there. As a result of our participation in all these tournaments we have made many new friends and contacts and have well and truly announced ourselves on the world stage.
All those involved with the Wales teams over the past twelve months (triallists, selected players, coaches, managers, support staff and other supporters) can feel proud of their efforts and achievements in starting to compete on the international scene.
In the meantime, we have also taken on board the need to also organise walking football in Wales at national level. And to this end we have overseen the inauguration of the first ever national walking football league in Wales - which is already proving to be a great success, with more clubs wanting to join next year. And we are collaborating with Game on Wales in the national Welsh walking football tournament which has been running successfully for about four years. But with our backing we have achieved a record entry this year, which is now for the first time open to two age categories. Not willing to rest on our laurels, we are already moving onwards to establishing a ladies' team and an over 70s team, and we are looking into ways to develop walking football for those with disabilities.
As a commitee, we feel that much has been achieved over a relative!y short period of time, but it remains our ambition to move Walking Football in Wales ever onwards and upwards. Walking Football Wales is proud to be a wholly independent entity, demanding respect from all of our fellow national organisations. It is regrettable that there have been attempts by other organisations in recent weeks to seek to influence how we should be organising our management team, but be assured that, in accordance with our national history, we shall remain fiercely proud of our independence. We shall resist any such attempt to usurp our right to run our own affairs and we shall develop the sport we all love for Welsh players and players in Wales. We are confident that most of those involved in walking football will agree that we have not done too badly this far!
We are making contacts to arrange walking football internationals (home and away) but we would be interested to hear from any international group who wishes to arrange a match against us.
Please contact us on [email protected] or [email protected] if you wish to find out about Walking Football Wales or to ask us about international matches.
Chair of Management Committee
Walking Football Wales National Teams