Participants from Parkinson’s UK’s Solihull branch were recently invited to join walking footballers from Arsenal in the Community for a friendly training session. 

Physical activity grant funding from Parkinson’s UK and the Whittington NHS Trust has enabled Arsenal in the Community to deliver the new walking football project, which is designed to help people with Parkinson’s to get active in a fun and social way. At the session, Martin Sewell, Chair of the Parkinson’s UK Solihull branch gave a talk about their new walking football project which takes place on a weekly basis at the Solihull Walking Football Centre.

This has also benefited from Parkinson’s UK grant funding. The Solihull branch members then took part in a training session with their Arsenal counterparts, who were getting ready for their first ever walking football tournament in Watford. 

The walking football sessions were led by trained coaches from Arsenal in the Community, using exercises designed to help people with Parkinson’s improve their balance, coordination and mobility through high intensity workouts. Walking football is one of the fastest growing sports in the UK for people with neurological conditions, such as Parkinson’s.

The Solihull walking football group is one of many grassroots projects growing in popularity across the West Midlands. Teams such as the men’s Worcester Movers and Shakers and women’s Parkinson’s Pioneers are also offering accessible and social walking football sessions for people living locally with Parkinson’s.  

Speaking about the experience, Martin Sewell, Chair of Parkinson’s UK’s Solihull branch, said: “We were invited by Arsenal in the Community to talk about our walking football sessions and the impact they have on the local Parkinson’s community. 

“Along with another Solihull player, Pete Grimshaw, we travelled down to the Emirates Stadium and, as we expected, the facilities were very good. Pete and I came prepared with our kit, ready for the Arsenal training session.

“Playing football whilst managing your condition is challenging, but just like Solihull, everyone at Arsenal understands the difficulties you are experiencing. With the help of some photos, I spoke about how the Solihull sessions had grown to where they are today.

“It was obvious that the issues at both clubs were the same. Having experienced coaches who know and understand why you can’t make it to a pass, that your facial expression is not because you’re not interested, or that you’re likely to freeze or shuffle when you play, really gives you the confidence as a player, plus it can really lift your mood.

“There is also no age limit either, with players ranging from 30 to 78. We played alongside our fellow players without any worries, prejudices, or embarrassment; practising tactics and techniques with one of the coaches who was clearly trying to get the best out of us.

“We are all different, but we play together because we all still love football. We may not have the same facilities as the Emirates stadium, but when the whistle blows, we still get that unexpected joy and a feeling, not only of being part of a team, but also of an extended family.”

Stuart Langworthy, England Manager for Over 60s Walking Football at the Walking Football Association, said: “We are delighted to be working with Parkinson's UK to develop more opportunities for people with Parkinson's to play walking football in a safe and fun environment. We have already supported new sessions in Swindon, Redditch, Hartshill, Wigan as well as Arsenal and the Parkinson's Pioneers women's walking football team.  

“Our aim is to create a network of sessions, mainly based at existing WF clubs where people with Parkinson's and other health conditions can get up, get out and get active.” Tim Morton, Physical Activity Programme Manager at Parkinson’s UK, said: “Being active is one of the best ways to manage Parkinson’s symptoms as regular physical activity can improve both long-term physical and mental wellbeing.

“Plus, activities like walking football offer great social opportunities for people with Parkinson's to enjoy."