Name: Jeff Smith
Location: Brittany, France
Walking Football Club Name: Brittany Walking Football Association (officially Association Bretagne de Football en Marchant); unofficially Les Bleus Clairs (The Light Blues)
Favourite Position: Forward
Association Job Title: President
When was the Brittany Walking Football Association formed and how long have you been involved with the running / management in the Association?
We started playing in February 2016 and became an officially registered French sporting association in June of that year.
It was my wife Sheelagh’s vision and together we set it up, with her as the President and me as the Secretary.
What motivated you to start the first Walking Football Association in France and can you explain what was needed to get the association up and running?
We were aware of the popularity in the UK and Sheelagh had seen, through the Spurs website, video of Harry Kane, Alan Shearer and others promoting the sport with Fabric Muamba.
We were at the Bolton match where he suffered his heart attack so had an immediate interest.
Sheelagh was very interested in playing as she’d always wanted to but had never had the opportunity before.
We recruited our first players mainly from members and friends of the 2 cricket teams in Central Brittany.
We wanted to be able to promote the sport as well as play it, so opted to register as an Association rather than a Club.
The intention was always to work alongside the Fédération Française de Football (FFF) if possible.
Can you tell the readers what an average week consists of with the running of the Association?
Most weeks are just sending and responding to emails and reading the latest news from relevant websites.
Practice sessions are regular so just need attending.
Committee meetings are around every 6 weeks so agenda setting and chairing are also regular events, plus the annual AGM.
Then there’s participating in the organisation of tournaments and liaison with the FFF, although development of the women’s game is the responsibility of the Development Officers (Sheelagh and our French committee member Jacqueline).
What differences are you aware of regarding Walking Football in the UK compared to France?
It’s virtually unknown in France.
I only know of 2 groups: one in Aulnay (Charente-Maritime) and one in Moncé-en-Belin (Sarthe).
We’ve had initial contact with individuals from Marseille, Nice, Lille and Alsace however.
The FFF in Brittany has been very supportive and last March we demonstrated the game at the renowned Foire Internationale de Rennes.
Representatives of District 56 (Morbihan) of FFF also came to our recent tournament and were persuaded to play.
Do you take guidance from the WFA / WFU or FA in any way when creating your Association rules and how do they compare to the ones you use?
No. We’ve followed French guidelines to create our Constitution (Statuts).
They look very much like those one would create for a charity in the UK.
When you have visiting teams from the UK over to play in friendlies and tournaments, which set of rules do the officials use?
We use mainly WFA/WFU rules and don’t like the FA version as they’re mainly a rehash of 5-a-side.
We play 3-touch, below head height (or crossbar if higher), no heavy tackling, all free kicks indirect, size 4 futsal indoors (handball size court 40x20m).
Have you needed to fundraise and if so, how did you achieve securing these revenue streams?
We’ve been fortunate to receive sponsorship from Currencies Direct, who also sponsor the 2 cricket teams.
They supplied full kit but insisted it be sky blue to match their colours.
We’d have preferred black and white stripes or hoops to match the Breton flag.
Do you know how many clubs have been formed so far in France and the number of players that are attending them on a regular basis?
Aulnay has regular training sessions with quite a few players: they travelled to us for a tournament in September this year.
I don’t think Moncé’s active as they only formed teams for a friendly competition in June.
If your club plays a competitive game, rather than one of the weekly Walking Football fitness sessions, do you see any change of attitude in respect of competitiveness in the players?
There’s more will to win and more need for organisation and tactics.
Unfortunately that tends to preclude mixed teams.
We anticipate this by organising a more friendly competition, after the main event, to include less competitive players and women.
Do you feel fitter and healthier since you have started playing Walking Football and if so in which ways?
I try to follow a healthy diet, which is easier in France than the UK I believe.
I live in the countryside and breathe clean air.
I volunteer at a railway preservation project, which involves heavy lifting of sleepers and rails, and I stand behind the stumps for over after over umpiring at cricket.
So bodily I’d say the benefits to me are suppleness and stamina, and mentally keeping alert and making instant decisions that affect you and the team rather than a poor batsman!
Have you had any injuries playing and if so what were they?
I’ve been fortunate to remain uninjured but I do suffer from gout!
Do you always have a club member present who has had first aid training at your games and training sessions and is there a defibrillator available in case of emergencies?
Several of us have had first aid training but I think all have lapsed. It’s something we must address.
There’s a defibrillator at the indoor venue we use for training and competition.
Has your social life changed since you started playing, and if so in what way?
Our players come from all around Central Brittany.
It’s a big area with many Communes and people have their own local interests.
We may come together for quizzes and prize givings but we, and they, tend to do our own thing.
What are your best and worst memories of playing Walking Football?
Best memory: playing a 1-2 (Alli-Kane) with Sheelagh for her to score in Rennes.
Worst memory: having to cancel our planned trip to Bristol through illness and injury to players.
How else has playing Walking Football affected your life?
It’s put me in touch with many friendly people to help the Association integrate into French life, and not be seen as just a group of Expats.
What do you like most about Walking Football?Being able to continue playing beyond middle age.
What do you like least about Walking Football?
People and teams that become too competitive and exclusive.
We believe it should be a game for everyone regardless of age, sex or ability.
Do you find it difficult NOT to run and what advice could you give someone in how to remain at walking pace?
At my age it’s more difficult TO run!
People have just got to practice, practice, practice or risk a Blue Card in competition!
What advice would you give to someone who would like to play but is nervous about approaching a club or attending a Walking Football session for the first time?
Come along and have a go, or just observe.
Our first 2 sessions are free and without obligation.
What do your friends and family think about you playing a sport again at your age?
I don’t think they’re surprised at anything I do!
Joining a cricket club age 64 and scoring a half century, working in a track laying gang, interviewing people for a radio programme.
It’s all part of living in France and enjoying an active retirement.
What are the costs involved in order for you to play Walking Football for footwear, kit and weekly session fees?
We have members, who all have an equal say in the running of the Association and pay 5€ a year.
Each training session lasts up to 2 hours and costs 2€.
Training kit’s up to individuals: Portsmouth; Stoke; Spurs replica or tatty tee shirts.
Also footwear and accessories such as shin guards are up to individuals.
If a British Walking Football Club would like to visit you for a game one day, how can they contact you and what information can you provide to help them prepare for their trip?
We’ve had successful visits from Havant & Waterlooville and Bristol United.
We’ve also had contact with Mountbatten, Fleet and Uxbridge.
Anyone who’d like to know more can contact us at [email protected]
We’ve got details of suitable accommodation in the area.
What are your goals for the future when playing Walking Football and for the Association?
I can do no better than repeat the AIM in our Constitution: "To promote Walking Football in Brittany".
And the main headings from the OBJECTIVES: "Act as an umbrella organisation for local Walking Football clubs and associations; Assist in setting up local clubs; Support local clubs to develop and become sustainable; and Build awareness and knowledge of Walking Football in Brittany".
Anything else you’d like to share?
I’d like to share our VALUES AND PRINCIPLES as well:
- Inclusiveness: Walking Football will be developed as an inclusive sport open to all regardless of age, ability or gender.
- All-ability: Particular attention will be paid to promoting the sport to groups with differing ability and/or reduced mobility.
- All ages and genders: No one will be excluded from playing or membership on the basis of age or gender. Particular attention will be paid to promoting the sport to women.
- Community Building: Work in partnership with local communities to build stronger links between Breton, French and foreign residents.
Here’s one of the 3 teams at our recent tournament. We’re in the front row, I’m 3rd from the left. Bristol are in black and Havant in yellow ...