Cornelius O’Kane: ‘over the moon’ and ‘sick as a parrot’…
Cornelius O’Kane is, for his sins, the ‘head cook and bottle-washer’ at Berkshire’s Woodley Saints Deadbeats WFC. Whilst loving our game, his experiences to date leave him with grave concerns about how the game is developing and conveys here where he thinks the problems lie and what he believes needs to be done to ensure a safe and enjoyable playing experience for everybody, irrespective of age or ability. Right Cornelius, tell us more…
When I was first pointed towards walking football two and a half years ago I couldn’t believe my luck – the opportunity to take up again at 65 the game I’ve loved all my life as part of a medical rehabilitation programme was almost too good to be true. The core points – no running, minimal physical contact and genuine consideration for other players – seemed to guarantee the safety and wellbeing of its original core audience, the old and the infirm.
In practice, over the period I have seen many players being unable to carry on playing, maybe as high as 40%, because of the physical demands of just taking part. As a group we have resolved many issues at a local level – playing without referees, we have largely achieved the core aims – no running, minimal physical contact and genuine consideration for other players (stopping automatically when a player goes down) – but when we venture outside (to play in friendlies or leagues) we face almost insurmountable challenges.
I believe the problems are based largely on a single issue – The FA, in it’s wisdom, regards walking football as a reduced traditional 11-a-side game when it evolved in the north of England as an extension of the five-a-side or futsal games. If you think about it, the length of the pitch and tolerance of running lend themselves to the traditional British style of play, usually referred to route one. At the same time, they also kill the very thing, no running, that made it possible for oldies like myself to compete on an almost equal basis with the rapidly increasing younger participants.
Part of the problem of course is that some referees are not familiarising themselves with the actual rules and seem to regard running for example as a minor infringement. Doing this and enforcing the rules correctly would go a long way to taking the game back for its original audience.
In my opinion, players under 60, unless medical recoverees, should still be playing standard vets football.
However, as a student of the game and someone who plays twice a week, I think the game could learn a lot from the initiatives developed for mini-soccer in recent years. My original background is in adult football but, as the chairman of a mainly youth club with a passion for getting kids into the game, can I propose the following amendments to the rules:
- Referees should officiate from the touchline so they see all the game in the absence of linesmen
- Pitches should be shortened and narrowed (or team sizes increased where appropriate) to eliminate as far as possible the temptation to run and improve ball skills
- The over head height rule should be interpreted correctly with the emphasis on ‘deliberate’ kicking – in what world would the player kicking a ball at another player get the resultant free kick for exceeding the height limit or indeed have the game stopped so often for ‘no blame’ offences?
- All rough play – tackling a player ‘on the move’, block tackling, slide tacking, ankle and Achilles tapping, barging, shoulder flipping, body checking, stamping; the list is endless but these are the ones I have suffered – should be punished severely. Perhaps to include a penalty irrespective of where the offence occurs, simply because it is rough play and older players can ill afford the horrendous injuries they are prone to
- Play should immediately be stopped when a player takes a heavy fall to make sure they are fit to continue
- A ‘retreat to the half-way line’ rule at kick-outs should be introduced to prevent ‘swarming’ and overcome the illogicality of not being able to kick the ball over head height at this point
- Opposing players should be at least 10 yards away when a corner, free kick or centre kick is taken
I can already hear our younger, more competitive players saying this will make the game too soft, almost like a friendly – was this not the original idea?