A DENTON-BASED walking football group may have a secret weapon if it gets back to playing matches – former Manchester City and Scotland star Willie Donachie.
For he has sampled the sport at Tameside Striders – and he has already made an impact.
The 68-year-old Scot, who made more than 300 appearances for City and played for his country at the 1978 World Cup, popped down to their base at Denton Youth FC on King Street.
Pal David Gibbons, one of Tameside Striders’ longest serving players, has been a friend since his playing days and they ended up sharing a pitch.
Alan Richards, of Tameside Striders, said of Willie’s appearance on Tuesday, August 18: “He’d been meaning to visit us for some time and accompanied his friend to our King Street session, playing in a couple of five-a-side games with our Over 67s.
“At the moment we are playing a modified game which helps with social distancing. Zero contact is the aim and we are not playing with goalkeepers at present but deploying our miniature goalposts.
“And there were smiles all round as Willie enjoyed his first taste of ‘walking football’ and his composure on the ball impressed us all.
“He was impressed with our facilities and the way we go about equipping and organising our sessions which was good to hear. He’s welcome back any time.”
Coronavirus and lockdown sent the world of walking football – like any other sport – into a state of confusion.
The Striders could not get on the pitch for five months and some of the members fell into the shielding bracket.
Now they are allowed out again, extra precautions are being taken, as well as playing the new modified version of the game.
Alan added: “Since lockdown eased we have taken some fairly stringent precautions around our sessions.
“Five months absence when some of us kept in touch via social media, cycle rides and online quizzes was slow to pass.“Walking footballers are usually over 50-years-old but our average age is 65 and we have many who have turned 70, even a couple of octogenarians!
“We need to take extra care with coronavirus. We monitor players body temperatures as they arrive with infra-red devices and put heavy emphasis on social distancing when we can.
“We play outdoors which makes things a little safer – indoor walking football is still not permitted.
“One casualty of Covid has been our ‘Fair Play League’ which was abandoned and eventually discontinued as competitive walking football is not really viable at the moment.
“We are focussing on our internal games and when things eventually normalise we will look for occasional friendly games against like-minded opposition.
“Denton Youth FC also have precautions in place and everyone takes the situation seriously.
“We hope we are back to stay but with uncertainty both regionally and nationally we are taking it one week at a time.”