23rd May, 2019
Alternative and disabled sports have soared into the spotlight in recent years, with the UK excelling in the Paralympics and enjoying a resurgence of interest in healthy lifestyles. But there aren’t many places where you can try your hand at lots of different sports and work out what really takes your fancy.
Unless, that is, you come along to the Royal Bath & West Show, which has hosted disabled games for 40 years and now features a wide range of different activities in the Sports Village. It’s even attracted some international competitors, so you’ll be learning from the best of the best.
“Come along and try your hand at a great variety of activities, from axe throwing and team challenges with Channel Adventure to netball with Team Bath,” says head of shows Alan Lyons. “Or if you don’t want to get physical, we’ve also got some great rugby matches lined up in the main ring on Friday evening: Cheer along the Army vs Navy and Mole Valley Farmers vs Thatcher’s Cider games; it’s sure to be an exciting tournament.”
A new feature in the Sports Village this year will be walking football – a phenomenon which has taken the nation by storm since it arrived about six years ago. “When we started our club in 2014 we had four players,” laughs Samantha Hibbs, secretary at the Clevedon Walking Football Club. “Now there are more than 90! I’m so looking forward to getting the word out about it – people often imagine very sedate elderly players wandering around after ball, but it really is energetic, competitive and fun.”
Of course there are players towards the grey-haired end of the spectrum, but there are also middle-aged competitors and teenage children. “The Walking Football Association – the equivalent of the FA – is trying to push the women’s side of it now, and wants to encourage more people to train as referees,” says Mrs Hibbs.
So what are the rules? The first one is obvious: No running! No slide tackling or contact, and the ball must remain below head height. “It’s like five-a-side and for many players it’s recapturing their youth,” she explains.
“Many people played football when they were younger and they miss it. They also miss the friendship and camaraderie – so with us they enjoy both the social and the competition side of it. Some members started out with poor health and it’s great to see them improve and get fitter – and there are tremendous mental health benefits as well, getting people out of the house and making new friends.”
The club will be bringing 25 players along to the Bath & West Show, with two tournaments held each day. And if you want to rub shoulders with some football heroes, you need look no further. “We’ve got three players who have been selected to represent the South West in the over 70s national championships,” says Mrs Hibbs. “There are already three national teams – over 50, 60 and 65, who are playing internationally – and the WFA is looking to create an over 70s squad as well.”
A fourth Clevedon member also plays for the Welsh national team. “We’re really quite fortunate to have that level of expertise in our team – many of them played football at county level or higher when they were younger.”
And it’s clearly paying off. “We won the over 65s trophy in the national competition, up against clubs like Manchester Corinthians, who we took on in the final,” she adds. “We won a great big trophy, which we’ll bring along the Show. I’m really looking forward to it.”