Reporter Kevin Janiak celebrates hitting the half century by having a go at a sport that is sweeping the nation – walking football.
Having recently reached the majestic milestone of 50 years, I turned my thoughts to what on earth it was I was supposed to do now?
The sudden realisation that you have probably lived longer than you have left on this earth can have a sweeping effect on many mild-mannered men.
Some buy themselves a new motorbike, or have an affair, but neither of these options was attractive to me, given that both would most likely decrease my chances of making it to 51.
Then I thought of a poster I saw back in the days when I was still happily 40-something.
It advertised walking football for over-50s ... I remember it because I felt a bit left out.
While I have never really played the game to any great extent competitively, having switched codes to American football in my late teens, I have always enjoyed a good kickabout.
However, a bad back, dodgy knees (remnants of those American football days with the Musselburgh Magnums) and – OK – a fairly low level of fitness brought about by a sedentary job has ensured a good kickabout has been several miles out of my comfort zone for some time.
But here was an option that lay just out of my reach and I couldn’t play because I wasn’t old enough.
It reminded me of watching the big boys playing football in the park when I was five.
Now, 45 years later, I had the chance to look into the world of walking football.
I had heard on social media that Live Borders was hosting a tournament on Sunday, November 20, at the Queen’s Centre in Galashiels.
And one of the organisers had noticed a tongue-in-cheek post on Facebook in which I had said I was thinking about the sport, and said that if I turned up for the event, bearing shorts and a pair of trainers, I’d probably be forced to play for someone.
And so, within five minutes of wandering into the hall, my services were snaffled up by a nice bunch of blokes from Annan, three of whom have Parkinson’s.
I could tell they were perhaps one of the less-established sides of the five teams that entered, as they were the only ones without a strip.
The others consisted of two Gala Fairydean sides, one from Kelso and a positively ancient-looking bunch of lads from Loanhead.
Watching the other sides warm up, it was clear who were going to be the ones to beat.
The Loanhead fellows may have looked like they had got lost on the way to the post office to pick up their pensions, but they were definitely a fantastically skilled bunch of wrinklies.
Their goalkeeper, Peter Collins, who is 84, plays no less than six days a week. And their other players looked like they could score from any area of the pitch.
It was time for the rules, courtesy of Live Borders’ SFA stalwart Drew Kelly. The actual rules themselves were few in number.
Basically, it’s a case of don’t run, walk. And don’t kick the ball over the referee’s head. And only tackle from the front, not the side or, God forbid, the back.
And that was about it. My foray into the strange world of walking football was about to start.
Annan were up against the Loanhead men for the first game of a round-robin league.
Our skipper, who was from Newcastleton but began playing for Annan when walking football group wound up in Hawick, reasonably, and, as it turned out, sensibly, gave me the honour of sitting on the bench.
I was quite happy to watch, partly because it meant I didn’t have to wear the snug-fitting pink bib for a while.
But, with the side 4-0 down, I was given the chance to turn it all round.
The match finished 6-0.
During the match that followed against Gala Fairydean Rovers Firsts, I managed to lay off a couple of passes, and the one time I was in position to score, my shot almost got lodged in the ceiling rafters.
My team-mates were fantastic ... the lads with Parkinson especially. Their illness forgotten for the day, their skills as footballers brought to the fore. However, we were beaten 3-1.
A lot of people were being penalised for running. I can honestly say that particular foul was not made by me. Nobody has accused me of running for years, and I wasn’t about to change that.
There is a knack of getting into space while not being able to run, and I don’t have that yet.
To be fair, some of the chaps were looking rather strange in their attempts to perambulate quickly, their gait something in between a speed-walker and a prolapsed penguin.
I decided that my skills, as they were, would be better suited in goal for the last two matches.
And, while I didn’t exactly manage to grind out clean sheets – we enjoyed a glorious victory over GFR seconds by 3-1 , before losing to Kelso by 6-2 – I don’t think I did too badly.
I won’t mention the time where a shot came off the bar and was deflected into goal off the back of my head as I dived in vain.
We ended up second-bottom of the table, which was no mean feat for this rag-tag bunch.
And it was congratulations for the Loanhead ‘boys’ who pipped Gala Fairydean firsts to the top spot on goal difference.
If it proves nothing else, it certainly shows that with dedicated practice, a level of artistry can be achieved.
It also tells me that there could be a bit of mileage in this for me. I’m definitely classed as a young ’un.
Hopes high are that the tournament can be held on a regular basis, and that it continues to grow in stature.
And for me? I think it could be arranged that I turn up once again, armed with shorts, trainers, and a pessimistic view that I can only get better.
Whether or not I’m still in goal when I’m 84 years old is another matter completely.
Round robin matches
Loanhead 6- 0 Annan Athletic
Gala Fairydean Rovers A 5-1 Gala Fairydean Rovers B
Loanhead 3-1 Kelso
Gala Fairydean Rovers A 3-1 Annan Athletic
Kelso 5-1 Gala Fairydean Rovers B
Gala Fairydean Rovers A 1-1 Loanhead
Annan Athletic 3-1 Gala Fairydean Rovers B
Gala Fairydean Rovers A 4-1 Kelso
Loanhead 2-0 Gala Fairydean Rovers B
Annan Athletic 2-6 Kelso
P W D GD Pts
Loanhead 4 3 1 10 10
GFR (A) 4 3 1 9 10
Kelso 4 2 0 3 6
Annan 4 1 0 -10 3
GFR (B) 4 0 0 -12 0