A LOCAL football club is increasing participation in the sport among older men while creating a community where friendships are forged.
Coordinated by father-son duo Noel and Kody Bradbury, Tunbridge Wells Seniors Football is helping men dust off their boots and get back on the pitch.
Founded in 2018, with 12 men playing walking football, Assistant Headteacher and football coach Noel realised the group were incapable of ‘just walking’, so evolved a style of play to bridge the gap between full competitive football and walking football.
Now, TW Seniors has grown into a group of more than 60 players of mixed ability – from complete beginners to retired professionals – who congregate every Sunday at St Gregory’s Catholic School’s 3G pitch.
Noel told the Times: “TW Seniors meet each week for the pure enjoyment of football. It’s inspiring to see the game spark something inside them.”
The rules are simple – non-contact with the ball below head height to minimise injuries. The games are fast and flowing, with a lot of movement.
In the UK, half of those aged over 55 do no physical activity. TW Seniors encourages men to get back to playing no matter how old they are. The club places no limits on age, but is broadly aimed at men over 40 who have given up regular football but are not quite ready for walking football.
Joe Neil, 72, who has been with TW Seniors for 18 months notes the ‘camaraderie’ and a ‘wonderful atmosphere of tolerance’ that has been cultivated at the club.
He said: “It is hugely therapeutic both physically and socially and for those of us that hate gyms or running, it is probably the only major exercise in the week – and it is a lot of fun.”
Neil Simmons, who has been playing football with TW Seniors for over five years, said: “When you first join, it’s highly likely that you don’t know many others but after just a few weeks, you gain 50-plus new friends.”
Jerry Milner, who joined the club three years ago said: “One of the highlights of the week now is waiting on a Saturday morning for the team sheets to be sent out so you can see who you are playing with and against… it makes you feel like a kid again!”
The values that are instilled by Noel and Kody build confidence in players and create an atmosphere of tolerance and good spirit. Sportsmanship, fair play, positivity and respect are embraced by the men.
Every few months, the group votes for a player who embodies these values, and they are awarded the Richard Powell Trophy, dedicated to Richard Powell, a former TW Senior and football coach at Rusthall FC, who passed away in 2021.
Mat Swift, who had ‘hung up his boots’ for several years before signing up, told the Times he was ‘made to feel confident’ and ‘encouraged’ while he found his form again.
He added: “I’ve not only improved, I can even do things on the pitch that I thought had been lost with age!
“I can truly say I love playing football again and have never felt or been made to feel out of place. There’s an incredible sense of camaraderie.”
Currently, TW Seniors use three-quarters of the 3G pitch at St Greg’s, but Noel says he would like to see the empty quarter filled.
“The only time there isn’t a game on is Christmas week. There is no pressure to come every week. We welcome players of all abilities – whether you’ve never played before or want to get your boots back on,” Noel said.
Mat added: “If you like football, want to keep fit and join a great bunch of ‘lads’, there is no better way to get back or simply keep on playing.
“There are regular beer and curry evenings too!”
TW Seniors meet every Sunday, from 5pm to 6pm at St Gregory’s Catholic School, Tunbridge Wells. Membership is £14.50 per month.
If you would like to join, email Kody at: email@example.com