Walking Football Scotland Chairman Gary McLaughlin has been recognised for his dedication to the sport by UEFA as the silver prize winner of the Best Grassroots Leader category in the UEFA Grassroots Awards 2019.
The Best Grassroots Leader award is issued to a coach or volunteer who has exhibited exceptional commitment and had a big impact, in numbers playing or social significance, over a long period.
Gary also receives 100 footballs as part of his award from UEFA and has decided to give a ball to each of Walking Football Scotland Cubs.
In 2013, Gary discovered walking football having suffered from heart problems. This discovery allowed him to play the sport he loved for the first time in years.
After experiencing walking football for himself, Gary could associate with the numerous scientific studies that proved the health benefits of involvement in walking football, from reducing blood pressure and cholesterol level to reduced levels of social isolation.
He first became Chairperson of the Scottish Walking Football Network – a steering group of interested walking footballers who came together in 2015 to help promote and expand walking football from the small number of groups scattered across the country. This group was supported by Paths for All Charity, Age Scotland and Scottish Government.
In April 2017 Walking Football Scotland was formed, a board of six trustees elected with Gary as chair. In September 2017 achieved charitable status and affiliated to Age Scotland. WFS is now working in close partnership with the Scottish FA, SAMH, Drinkaware, St John Scotland and Prostate Cancer UK to raise awareness and the profile and to support groups and participants across Scotland.
As Chairperson of the newly-formed Walking Football Scotland, Gary has secured full legal charity status for the organisation, allowing the group to secure funding from many different sources. Gary, assisted by the other elected trustees, has driven the game to massive growth in the last few years.
From its birth in 2012, walking football, through the efforts of Gary and Walking Football Scotland, now offers activity across Scotland in:
• All six Scottish FA Regions / WFS Regions
• 31 Local Authority Areas
• 97 Member Clubs
• 140+ sessions weekly
• 3,500+ participants weekly (both men and women)
Walking Football Scotland Chairman Gary McLaughlin said: “I am both surprised and delighted at receiving this award. It’s something I love to do and I believe in. “Football is a team sport and walking football is a team effort, it takes all of us to become a UEFA winner.
“At Walking Football Scotland we are a participant led organisation – it truly is the participant’s game and that’s what makes it special.
“Football crosses all divides. It’s fantastic for the older generation that UEFA is identifying walking football with this award.
“For me personally, football truly did save my life. It was life changing for me. I had two heart attacks, I have seven stents and walking football played a role in changing my life. It’s what drives me to get the message out about the fitness benefits and the connections you can build and it’s all through football.
“It’s not just the physical fitness though; there is a huge benefit to mental health too. It’s all part and parcel of the magic of football. From something as little as walking in to a dressing room and having strong connections, someone simply asking you how you are doing, or just saying hello to you.
“We want to continue to expand walking football and educate as many people as possible on the benefits that come with it, in order to grow the number of participants and ultimately bring joy to as many as we can.
John Brown, South West Regional Manager at the Scottish FA said: “Gary McLaughlin is Mr Walking Football and volunteers countless hours in his crusade to help other people enjoy the benefits of a healthy lifestyle.
“He never tires of telling the stories of his walking footballers in Scotland. One in particular has great power: a wife of one of the regular participants came to thank Gary for getting her husband involved in walking football and in particular the social element after matches.
“The lady emotionally admitted that for the first time in many years she no longer had to worry about her husband attempting suicide as he had in the past. Walking football had improved her husband’s mental health so much that he always had something to look forward to and was like, in her own words, ‘a new man’.
“That, for me, shows the power of walking football and the impeccable work Gary has put in, along with all the support around him. This award is a fitting recognition.”