Baz Holmes: containing the ‘monster’ at the crossroads…
Barry ‘Baz’ Holmes is an enthusiast of our wonderful version of the ‘beautiful game’ and has, over the past three years, witnessed the startling growth of the sport. But having originally thought what a fantastic opportunity to return to playing a format of the game that meant so much to him in his younger days, he’s now very concerned that we’ve reached a crossroads and that the ‘monster’ needs to be contained…
When I was young, around a millennium ago, there was an old blues player, Willie Dixon, wrote a wonderful ballad “Crossroads”. It was about the great blues guitarist and father of the blues Robert Johnson, who after years of playing and not finding any success met The devil at a crossroads and sold his soul to him for fame and fortune.
I wonder if our wonderful sport of walking football is at a similar crossroads in its development. There appears to be a schism of attitude towards how we play this game.
We have an amazing number of teams, which have all appeared in the last three years, and, above everything else, are, testament to the demand for any sport which encompasses the aspirations of a forgotten age group in the sporting world. Walking football has become that conduit for the athletic and mobile group of people who were standing, waiting for the start pistol to be exhausted. The sport has given old bones, little used muscles and vivid, febrile imaginations the opportunity to once again sample the joys of the “beautiful game”.
Unfortunately we have also unleashed a monster. That monster is competition.
Here in Yorkshire we have some clubs who are already considering separate competitions which will engender the aspirations of all of us
Before you all open up your Twitter accounts and Facebook pages and the online Roget’s Thesaurus for the best words to describe this moron and imbecile who is attacking our great, new sport for the whole world to see, let us just take a step back and take a humanitarian and empathetic view of the people we play with.
When I first heard of this sport, around three years ago, I thought, “Wow!, what a wonderful opportunity for a man with final stage kidney disease to be able to take up a sport which will enable me to keep fit and join in again with the sport which meant so much to me as a young man and would mean I would not have to run mile after mind numbing mile just to keep my body ready for the coming tribulations”. I joined the nearest walking football club, which just happened to be Huddersfield, a team to which I had affiliations as a young footballer. “Here we go”, I thought, “a light run out and, with my skills, will make mincemeat of these old gits.” I was in for a rude awakening. The ball skills were sensational, the defensive positioning the drop of a shoulder to lose the marker and the camaraderie was palpable in its intensity. Within those players were individuals like me who were either ill, returning from injury, were disabled or maybe possessed less skills than some of the participants. This did not seem to matter because the laws of this new sport were designed for total inclusion and the adjudicators were mindful of the limitations of some of us.
I then looked for other teams who were in the area and found two to whom I felt had the same attitude to the sport. Time moved on, we played a few friendlies, which felt a little alien in that the games were becoming increasingly aggressive and the speed of the players was increasing incrementally with each game. This was, without doubt, the result of the inexperience of the adjudicators who thought that it was normal football but a bit slower. They were turning a blind eye, or maybe an uneducated eye, to slide tackles, tackles from behind, two men tackles, over physical personal battles. Now anyone who played against me would know that when young I would play without compromise and, unfortunately, to my everlasting embarrassment, responded with likeminded brutality.
Things had to change and I withdrew from competition because it just felt “wrong.” I witnessed over the next two years the introduction of more competitions and the rise of the competitive clubs. The original reason for the clubs appeared to be being forgotten , which was, initially, a method for ageing players to come together to play a few games of football and to socialise with likeminded people and to enable return from injury etc. etc. However, I have noticed that within some of the clubs, who at the initiation of their clubs, had an all inclusive policy to include people who were looking to get out of the house, people who had lost their partners or suffering from depression and other loneliness issues and many types of disabilities, have by and large been discarded for the dubious and misguided view that those people cannot be catered for if they wish to win competitions. Although there is no doubt that over 65s and more and more over 70s are joining clubs they are, in general, of a particular type of character who enjoys the competitive element of the clubs.
Back to the “Crossroads” analogy. There are teams who wish to play to the rules as laid down and wish to be all inclusive, with people of all abilities, people who are at various stages of recovery all genders and sexual orientation. These teams are diametrically opposed to the supra macho intensity of some teams who’s only reason for their existence is to win, sometimes at any cost and with occasional bouts of physical altercation including the embarrassment of pensioners squaring up to one another. I believe that if we do not start and enable the adjudicators to implement the rules, and encourage players to show some personal discipline with clubs being more inclusive, we will see that schism unfold into a formation of likeminded clubs into an association to whom membership of will revitalise the original ethos of the inventors of the game.
Here in Yorkshire we have some clubs who are already considering separate competitions which will engender the aspirations of all of us who want this sport to flourish in the way we believe it was envisaged by its founders.
I know that the competition genie has been let out of the bottle and that there will be no retrospective step back. Clubs like the ones I am happy to be associated with will continue to push forward the agenda of inclusion and those clubs do not need a mention but they will recognise my description of them and we, who consider ourselves forward thinking and progressive, are proud to be a small part of what we consider the future of our sport.