One of Walsall FC Community Programme’s walking football participants has been selected for the The Welsh national walking football team.
Adrian McGregor, 53, who lives in Willenhall, attends walking football sessions with Walsall FCCP coaches, and has now been named as a midfielder in the Welsh Over 50s squad for their first ever walking football international.
He said: “I’ve been playing walking football for about two years. I didn’t know Wales were forming a team, but luckily I saw an advertisement about two months ago where Wales were having trials.
“The little boy in me thought: ‘you know what, I reckon I could do that’. I was born in Wales and my family live in Wales. You think this might be a chance to play for your country.
“You’re pitting yourself against people of a higher standard and that was good, plus it encourages you to train more, work on weaknesses, and generally up your game.
“Eventually I found myself down in Cardiff for the final trial where I got selected for the Welsh squad. It’s amazing - it’s like a dream come true.”
Having previously served as a Royal Marine for five years, and then working as a firefighter, Adrian was medically retired through injuries received at a fire. He believes walking football sessions have played an important part in his rehabilitation.
Adrian said: “I’ve had multiple fractures, two spinal surgeries and shoulder surgeries. I knew I probably wouldn’t be able to play normal football because I’ve had lots of surgery on my ankle.
“Then I heard about walking football and I’ve just grown into it ever since. I’ve played as much as I can, and although I still have lots of problems through injuries, I’ve got my fitness back.
“I think it’s one of those things where people just see it as coming and playing football, but it helps emotionally and mentally as well.
“And of course there’s the social aspect. I’m mixing here with guys who are 70 or 80 years of age and we’re all equal.
“You’re talking to people who can show you different ways of moving and stretching. We have discussions about eating habits, you can give advice to a 75 year-old about a pulled hamstring - you get involved in healthy conversations. It isn’t just football, it’s wider than that.”
The Wales team is now looking forward to their maiden international against England in the Autumn, with the first squad training day this Sunday.
They are then look to build a team to complete at the Walking Football Association European Championships in 2019, and World Cup in 2020.
Martin Pritchard is the assistant manager of the Wales over 50s team.
He said: The spirit at the trials has been outstanding. The camaraderie the players have - you would look at them and think they have been playing together for years.
“Nowadays any sport is a young person’s game but sports like walking football, walking basketball or walking netball are opening up the possibilities.
“Adrian has been an absolute star. From the start he was saying ‘even if I don’t get in, give me a shout if you want me to help with anything’. It’s what walking football is all about - he just gets it.”
Chris Springthorpe, Assistant Community Officer at Walsall FC Community Programme added: “It’s brilliant to see how far Ade has come in walking football and the Wales call-up is amazing for him.
“It just shows the wide range of players we have. An 80-year-old with limited skills and an international over 50s player can enjoy themselves as part of the same session – everyone understand each other.
“Even playing for their country, it’s great to see how much the guys enjoy it. Because of their age you can see that none of them take any of this for granted.”
Walsall FC Community Programme run walking football sessions at Shelfield Community Academy (Mondays 6-7pm), Sneyd Community Association (Tuesdays 10-11am) and the Banks’s Stadium (Fridays 6-7pm).