Manchester City Council

Walking-footballer Grandad set to be City's own Silva Senior

After Saturday's derby success it's no wonder City manager Pep Guardiola recently admitted that he’s so obsessed with midfielders he’d like to sign a thousand of them.

Well, there’s a new team in town – that can match his big numbers – if age is a measure of success.

Trefor Phillips, aged 67, is just one of new breed of latter-life sportsmen who have taken up walking football as a way of keeping fit and making friends.

Each week, he joins a team of like-minded men, aged from 50 to 83, to train with City in the Community coaches at the iconic Etihad stadium. Between them, the average combined age of a team can reach an impressive 700-plus years.

Their version of the beautiful game is slower and more sedate – following usual football rules – except that running is not allowed and the ball must no go over head height.

Trefor, who had a new hip 16 years ago, and then a knee replacement in 2012, says he has not looked back since walking back on to the pitch after a gap of some 40 years.

"The whole experience has been magic," he says. "I’m so much fitter now and I’m able to do things that I couldn’t even do twenty years ago. My overall health and flexibility have improved so much that if I go out walking with my wife she is always telling me to slow down."

Each week the coaches take the team through warm-ups and exercises matched to their ability before they start a game, where speed-walking is allowed, but any running is strictly vetoed.

"It’s actually really hard when you start because all your natural instincts are to run for the ball," says Trefor. "But, you have to resist it and really concentrate on footwork, control and anticipating where the ball is going to go so that you are in the right place."

Trefor, who is retired but still helps out occasionally at the family’s stable business, says that the camaraderie of the game is just as valuable as the sport – and has been a way of getting some of his widowed teammates to socialise again.

"Some of the lads have lost their wives and they are the ones who could have found it difficult to make friends again. But, we have a really solid friendship between us and lots of banter– and even if one of us is injured we still turn up to matches to support each other.

"That confidence rubs off on you in other areas of life too. I think to myself, that anything is possible, especially when I walk through the Etihad and really feel like I’m part of the City team. In general I feel brighter and more alert and I don’t feel like I get ill as often or need to go to my doctor as much.

"This is why I’m happy to be an ambassador for Manchester City Council and the three Manchester Clinical Commissioning Groups – as an example of the type of proactive approach to staying fit and healthy and joining in with events in your own community."

If pushed, Trefor will admit that he was mainly an Oldham fan before his involvement with walking football. Now he’ll tell you that he’s a true Blue.

"If I could style myself on any City player it would be David Silva – he’s poetry in motion," he says.

"Ultimately, as a team, we’d like to see some of the older greats coming down to play against us like Mike Summerbee for example."

And what about the other trappings of a football lifestyle?

"Some of the lads do have sports cars," concedes Trefor, "But they had them before they started to play. The closest I’ve got to fame is through my granddaughter – she’s always telling her friends at school that ‘Grandad plays for Manchester City’."

City legend Mike Summerbee, a big fan of City in the Community's walking football initiative said:

"Walking Football is a great way for people like me to get some regular, informal exercise as well as looking after their general health and wellbeing.

"Walking football is definitely more about skill than speed but I think the players just enjoy how much fun it is to get out on the pitch without having to worry about pace. Each session consists of a short warm-up and then a series of games so there is something for everyone.

"It's great to see City in the Community providing opportunities like this for local people. When Peter Barnes and I took part in a session last year, the atmosphere was brilliant and really welcoming - it didn't even feel like exercise."

Speaking on behalf of Manchester’s three Clinical Commissioning Groups, Ian Williamson,said: "Trefor’s story is exactly the type of approach that shows the potential of what our communities can offer in keeping people both happy and healthy."

Councillor Paul Andrews, Executive Member for Adult Health and Wellbeing at Manchester City Council, said: "Manchester is well-known for its vibrant community spirit - the more we make the most of this potential, the more we can act to do as much as possible to stop people becoming ill or isolated in the first place."

You can read about the vision for health and social care (this is a locality plan called a Healthier Manchester) in Manchester here:

www.manchesterccgs.nhs.uk

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