Walking football is enjoyed by both men and women over the age of 50.


Every week, a group of over 50s in West Belfast meet up to socialise and keep healthy by playing an accessible sport many people may not know about. Danderball, also known as walking football, is similar in many ways to the beautiful game – except players walk instead of run, and tackling is prohibited. It’s used to encourage those aged 50 and older to get back into team sports and has a number of positive benefits on health and wellbeing, including reducing isolation.

A team from the nearby Healthy Living Centre called The BraveHEARTS meet every Friday morning at Grosvenor Recreation Centre to play the sport. There are currently around 16 players on the team and they are all aged between 50 to 80.

We headed to the pitch on Friday morning to see The BraveHEARTS take on the official IFA Danderball team, and to learn more about the sport as well as the many benefits it has for its players.

Speaking to Belfast Live, Siobhan Skates from the Heart Project at the Healthy Living Centre said the sport, which is open to all men and women aged over 50, has been a great way for people to get involved in sport.

She said: “It’s the beautiful game at a slower pace. People love interacting with other people, and in a team sport, especially for guys who’ve been playing for all their lives and have had to slow down for whatever reason, it’s a great option for people who want to enjoy a sport at a slower pace.”

One of the players, Gerry, played in the Irish League when he was younger and thought his football days were behind him. However, he said danderball has given him a new lease of life. “I found out about it really through word of mouth from different people,” he explained.

“They asked for people who had previously been footballers in their day. I played a lot in the Irish League for teams like Glentoran and Crusaders, and I thought my football was finished – but here we are.

“The feeling of being able to score a goal gives you a great thrill, that never changes. I went through heart operations and this has been a good way back into things for me. It’s still a little bit competitive, even though it’s called walking football.”

Gerard O’Hanlon said when he first started playing walking football, they struggled to get enough people for a match. But demand for the sport is continuing to grow.

He said: “You just have to look how many people are here today, at the start we struggled to get six a side, now we can have 16 , 18, or 20 people here at a time. Especially for health and wellbeing, it’s amazing.

“We’re here every Friday from 10 o’clock to 11 and it’ll do you the world of good getting out to have a bit of fun and it’s going to do your health a world of good as you’re going to be fitter getting out, and they’re all a great bunch of lads.”

The danderball team is supported by the Public Health Agency, and Victoria Creasy, the PHA’s senior health improvement officer, said they’re happy to be involved with the teams.

She said: “We know those two things – catching up with friends for a chat and staying physically active – are key factors for preventing dementia. Activities like this which get people doing both are great for both physical and mental health.

“You can see the craic everyone is having here today, before they even started playing they were enjoying each other so much. It’s brilliant being here to see this and the Public Health Agency are delighted to be able to support it.”

(Article source: The Guardian)

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