Alan Parry: Walking back to happiness…
Alan Parry, as you probably know, is Sky Sports TV’s seasoned commentator on much of their football output but he is also now a devotee of the walking game. Here he conveys how his fanaticism for the game since a very young age has now led him to join our ‘esteemed’ ranks…
In my job as a commentator with Sky Sports, I go to at least one Premier League game a week and then there’s my involvement with Wycombe Wanderers where I served for many years on the board of directors.
Add to that an obsession with watching every televised game I’m allowed to without provoking divorce proceedings and you might think there’s enough football in my life to keep any fan happy.
Well, you’d be wrong!
For as long as I can remember, I’ve also loved playing the game. From chaotic, 20-a-side kickabouts as a kid growing up in the back streets of Liverpool to the newly discovered delights of walking football, at the age of 68 I’m living proof that practice doesn’t always make perfect.
Martin O’Neill, manager of the Republic of Ireland and a good friend of mine, once described me as the worst footballer ever to come out of Liverpool and in all honesty I can’t disagree. Enthusiasm I have by the bucket load but as for technique, let’s just say that my second touch is usually a tackle!
As well as those street games under the gas lights (yes, I really do go that far back), there were break time games in the schoolyard – usually continued after school in the park – followed by matches for the local youth club when they were desperately short of players.
After leaving school I played for various teams in the Liverpool Sunday League and whilst that did nothing to improve my levels of skill, it certainly taught me how to look after myself on the pitch. I could write a book about the things I’ve witnessed playing Sunday football and I’m just grateful it’s a tale that I’ve lived to tell!
There followed a chequered spell in my playing ‘career’ when I turned out for a charity team alongside some of the game’s greatest names including George Best, Bobby Moore, Roger Hunt, Ian St.John, Bobby Robson and even Franz Beckenbauer.
The privilege was all mine.
In my late 50’s, I joined Cookham Wanderers (what do you mean you’ve never heard of them?) who play vigorous sessions of five-a-side in a school gymnasium every Friday night before ruining the fitness benefits by repairing to the local pub after the final whistle. I’m still in their squad but expecting a ‘Bosman’ free transfer any day now.
And then along came walking football. Like most guys who’ve played the running version, I was sceptical and downright dismissive about this newest form of the beautiful game…..until I tried it.
I am now a devotee and I can’t get enough of it – I sometimes play 3 or 4 times a week. Walking football is competitive without being aggressive, testing without being exhausting and the best thing is the banter and the camaraderie.
We’re all around the same age, just a bunch of guys trying to turn back the clock without taking ourselves too seriously. I can recommend walking football to anyone and I hope to keep playing for as long as I can.
You never know, I might even improve one day!