Walking football after a heart attack – Brian’s story

Even if you can’t run like as you used to, football can still be an option. Brian King tells Rachael Healy how he set up a walking football team after his heart attack.

Brian King

Brian King is a huge football fan. He supports Leyton Orient, manages a local under-15s squad and was a keen player in his 20s. But it wasn’t until after a heart event and surgery in 2014 that he got his own boots back on.

Determined to get active, Brian, 58, from Castleford, Wakefield, set up his own walking football team with a friend he met on the cardiac rehabilitation course at Pontefract General Infirmary.

“One day, we said: ‘Why don’t we just have a go?’” says Brian. “I was involved with a football club anyway, so we had the facilities in place.”

Doing this even just once a week makes you feel good

They persuaded three other people from the course to join too. “I think that’s been good, because we’re all in the same boat,” says Brian. “We kind of look after each other.”

Their team, the Townville Allstars,  now consists of seven men and one woman – and they’re always on the lookout for new subs.

They may not have to look for long. According to Steve Rich, founder of national network Walking Football United, enthusiasm for the sport is growing. “In November 2014, there were 125 clubs. Now, there are 466,” he says. “It’s huge and I think growth will continue; new teams are forming all the time.”

But you don’t have to create your own team to get involved. “There are a couple of ways of doing it,” says Steve. “Go onto the Walking Football United website and find your local venue, or go through your local county FA. When you ring up and enquire about the session, ask what age group [plays there] and if it’s competitive or standard.”

Whole new ball game

Walking football 

Walking football differs from regular football in a number of ways. “It’s based on five-a-side,” says Steve. “It has small arenas, small goals, a degree of tackling, kick-ins to replace throw-ins… taking into consideration the pace of play and the age of competitors.”

Games can last for up to 30 minutes (15 each way). It’s non-contact and squads can call one ‘time out’ per half. And, of course, running is banned.

“The temptation to run is sometimes pretty overwhelming!” says Brian. “Especially for those of us who played football in the past. But if you do run, you give away a free kick to the opposition.”

Apart from all the health benefits, there is a social side

Steve agrees that some people find it tricky. “It’s just natural instinct,” he says. “So it’s a case of retraining yourself and self-regulation as a group. The general consensus is that, during the course of a stride, one foot must remain on the ground at all times.”

The slower pace makes it ideal for people like Brian who have injuries or health issues. In February 2014, Brian had a heart attack.

“I was at work when it happened,” he says. “I’m a delivery driver and I wasn’t feeling great, so I thought I’d get out of the van and get a bit of fresh air. That’s the last thing I remember. I woke up in hospital a week later.”

The paramedics got Brian’s heart pumping again and took him to hospital. There, a stent was fitted in the blocked artery, but he had fallen into a coma. “The doctors told my family that I probably wasn’t going to come round,” he says.

Back on his feet after heart problems

Fortunately, a few days later, Brian regained consciousness. He was monitored in hospital and, once released, returned for follow-ups.

“I was in for one of the appointments when they discovered the stent had become blocked,” Brian says. “They decided surgery was the best option and I had a double bypass in June 2014.”

Nine weeks later, Brian went to his first cardiac rehab session and before long, the Townville Allstars were born. “I think walking football helped my recovery,” he says.

“A lot of people my age tend not to take regular exercise and doing this even just once a week makes you feel good afterwards. Putting the time aside to do it has been good for all of us.”

Brian King and his walking football team

Brian (right) and his team play friendly games against other local squads.

Brian and his team mostly engage in casual games. “I’m told there are leagues about if you want to join them, but we’ve just been playing friendlies as and when we can get them,” says Brian.

Walking football is about far more than competition. “Apart from all the health benefits, there is a social side,” Steve says. “Some people living a sedentary life decide to get out and try it, and before you know it they’re socialising, going for a cup of tea afterwards and making new friendships.”

The Townville Allstars used their social prowess to raise money for the BHF. “We had a walking football tournament… it was a huge success,” says Brian. With a family fun day and fundraising night at the local club, too, Brian and the team raised an impressive £800.

“We were inundated with emails and messages afterwards, saying: ‘It was really good. Do it again!’” 

Go the extra mile for the BHF

Fundraisers at the BHF Just Walk eventInspired to walk? Just Walk is our new fundraising initiative. It enables you to set your own personal challenge and turn walking into money for life saving research. It’s incredibly flexible:

  • Choose where, when and how far you walk. So whether it’s a solo effort or you and your friends are walking together, fundraising has never been so easy or fun.
  • We’ll send you a free Just Walk fundraising pack including lots of tips and advice – you’ll even get a T-shirt and bag for you to use on the day.

Sign up today and you can start planning your life saving walk straight away. Visit the Just Walk website, or call 0300 330 3322.

If you want to really push yourself, you could register for one of our organised overseas treks:

  • Why not climb Kilimanjaro in September 2017, enjoying the spectacular views of Tanzania along the way?
  • Or take on a 100km London to Oxford Trek?
  • We’ve also filled our calendar with adventures in Peru, China, and around the UK.

Choose your challenge at the BHF Walks and Treks website or call 0845 130 8663.

More useful information