After viewing Mike Bushell's report from Bury F.C on 'Breakfast News', in June 2012, looking at 'walking football', friends Steve Williams and Ian Cole thought what a brilliant idea it was.
So what happened next? Armed with all their football contacts and ex-team mates they decided to organise Walking Football sessions in their home town of Bedford. Buying their own kit and balls they gathered a few friends, relatives and the lads from 'Santaniellos', the local pizza restaurant, and gave it a try at the Hockey Centre on 24th September 2012.
The trial proved to be a success and by securing the all weather facilities at Bedford School they were able to start the first of our regular sessions on Monday 8th October 2012, with 10 players. Numbers built from that first night. It was decided to not limit ages which means Sons & Fathers play together with Uncles and Brothers and teammates from years past. To date we have been able to welcome teenagers through to septuagenarians!
We were lucky enough to get great support from our County FA and the Bedford Borough Sports Development Team. Steve's son Jason set up our website and family friend James Rees-Rinaldi did a photo shoot.
What else has gone on? The Bedford Sports Development Team have invited us to a number of their Community Events including Armed Forces Day in 2013. As the facilities are unavailable through the Summer, the Borough Council allowed us to lease an area in Bedford Park to run our Summer Sessions and, in all this time, numbers continued to build with 43 at our 1st Anniversary Session on 7th October 2013!
2014 saw another step forward for us. We had a stand at the July Bedford River Festival, second only in attendance to the Notting Hill Carnival. From the interest we decided to add an extra session to our 'portfolio'. The Bedford Sports Development Team included us as an approved supplier and used our new session for their Re-Activate Programme to get people back into activity, and Barclays released their Digital Eagles advert showing Walking Football! We nearly made it for that, with a visit from the Production Company and some preliminary filming, and a member short listed (boy would Ade have made great viewing!!). Nevertheless it created even more interest for the sessions and we celebrated our 2nd Anniversary with 66 participants on the night!
2015/16? Interest continued into 2015 and we entered the inaugural Peoples FA Cup making the Finals in Manchester in May. Summer sessions moved to Bedford Cricket Club bringing us together with another sporting community and, at the start of our 4th season back at the Bedford School all weathers, we celebrated our 100th night on Monday 14th September, 2015. Great to see many of the lads that were there on the first night still with us.
We reached our 3rd Anniversary in October 2015 and took the decision to increase the playing area available for our 7-8pm session. Being able to offer extra places soon paid off with more people attending and numbers starting to rival the established 8-9pm session.
As we moved from 2015 into 2016 - attendances hit a record 84 on more than one occassion - we broke through 5000 individual attendances and we of course enjoyed our now annual Christmas table at Bedford Rugby.
Again we entered the Peoples FA Cup and (again) made our way to the finals in Sheffield - not our best of days - but did give the eventual winners - Grimsby - a run for their money in the group game.
After our successful 2015 sessions Bedford Cricket Club invited us back for Summer 2016 and in addition to our regular Monday night slot - we took the bait (and with great support from some of our more 'senior' regulars) added a daytime session. The Euros & Brexit dominated the Summer... but the guys in Bedford still came out and supported our sessions in numbers.
So September 2016 saw us start our 5th Season with numbers continuing to increase and a regular daytime session added to our portfolio - made us think of the old 1993 M People Classic on the Deconstruction Label... "Moving on Up!"
Numbers stayed steady through to the start of 2017 and then the 'new year new me' surge hit with more people joining hitting some spectacular numbers at the Monday night sessions. We had also taken the decision to support a Charity for the 2016/17 season and chose the Bedford Prostate Cancer Support Group purely with voluntary contributions each week at the sessions when the guys paid their playing subs.
We also took another step forward with our 'offer' in early 2017 by starting a group to play friendlies - plenty of local games and a trip to Arsenal too - a new experience for some and interesting to see what constitutes walking for some! Again we took up the challenge of the FA/BBC Peoples Cup and after winning through rounds at Luton and Peterborough took our place in the Finals at Birmingham with the 5 other finalists. An eye opening day saw us (rather hard done by) knocked out on penalties in the Semi Final - with the final contested by teams we had beaten in the round robin games.
As we finished our sessions on the baize at Gordon Fields the County FA came down to video a WF warm up (available on Website and Facebook). It was back to the Cricket Club for the Summer and a taster Wednesday night session too. It also saw us pass the 8000 mark of individual attendances (now heading for 10000!). Highlight of the summer was picking up the Best Diversity Project from our County Football Association in their FA Community Awards.
We started our 6th Season in September 2017 with 4 sessions having added the Wednesday night as a permanent fixture giving us a total register for all sessions in excess of 150. We presented our cheque to the Charity for £900 (this year we are supporting the St Johns Hospice at Moggerhanger) and picked up the Community Sports Award at the annual Bedford Sports Awards. All this was put into perspective when we tragically lost one of our number - Pete Allen at the end of November.
As we start 2018 further opportunities to expand WF in Bedford are opening up. It's not an exact science and we don't claim that our sessions are perfect... it's about people kicking a ball about!! So if you fancy taking part, email us at email@example.com and find out about the next available session taking place.
"Sons & Fathers play together with Uncles and Brothers and teammates from years past"