Blackburn Rovers walking footballers continue to make their mark on the international scene as the Blues’ over-60s captain Tony Jones joined the England squad on Thursday.
The game against Gibraltar, on the Rock, at the Victoria Stadium on Saturday is the first ever overseas game for the national team having played Italy at home and Wales away during 2018.
“It was a great honour to walk out onto the pitch in an England shirt and sing the National Anthem when I made my debut against Wales” said Jones.
“It really did make the hairs on the back of my neck stand up. We played a warm-up friendly on Friday against a Spanish team made up of ex-pats who are part of the growing walking football scene on the Iberian south coast.”
Jones and Rovers team-mate Trevor Hanson, who plays in the England over 50s side, recently turned out for their respective National teams in a friendly mini-tournament hosted by Everton.
The 60s and 50s faced opposition from two Everton teams and two from Wigan, and finished as the winners on the day.
Hanson was part of that team and commented: “It’s great to be involved in this adventure and it is a big positive for Blackburn Rovers and the Walking Football set-up.”
The pair are looking forward to the up-coming return leg games against Wales at the England FA Training camp at St Georges Park in March and against Italy in Milan on 6th April.
Jones added: “I have always wanted to play at St Georges Park, it’s nice to think that at 64 I can turn out on the same pitches used by the full England international team.
"I certainly didn’t have that in mind when I played my first walking football session at the BRIC just three years ago.”
At the start of June, the first European Championships are being held at Chesterfield's Proact Stadium.
There is also an initial enquiry from Walking Football Australia who are suggesting some games ‘down-under’.
As a supplement to this, Blackburn over 50s player Tony Hartley and coach Billy Legg have taken on the roles of manager and coach for the England North West Regional side. This is one of four areas covering the whole of the country which have been set up as feeder teams into the England first team squads.
Hartley and Legg have now held three training sessions to allow them to assess players from Lancashire, Cumbria, Greater Manchester and Merseyside.
The next stage for those chosen for the final squad is a series of friendlies against league representative sides and teams from other regions. “The players we are looking at have the opportunity to break into the national squad and embark on the same journey as Tony and Trevor"
“I am looking at an initial squad of around twelve from the 30+ players that we have seen to date”, he continued.
"We have five or six players from Blackburn vying for places in that squad, it really does show the strength in depth of the players at the BRIC.”
Those players include, Mick Crump, Adrian Dugdale, Kevin Marsden, Russell Marsden and John Sykes. Gordon Arkwright, Mark Jenkinson and Mick Stockley have unfortunately missed out for the time being due to illness and injury but will look to make their mark when they return.
On the domestic front, impressive team performances by both the over 50s and over 60s during 2018 have cemented Rovers Walkers reputation as being among the best teams in the country. This culminated in a fourth place finish for the 50s in the WFA National Tournament finals in October. This success has been the springboard which has helped Jones and Hanson establish themselves at International level.
New players are always welcome. If you feel that you would like to be a part of the competitive scene or you just want to join in and enjoy the fun, then come along. Although the headlines are about the top end of the competitive game, ability is not a barrier to joining in.
It can help improve your fitness, gets you out and meeting people and is a boost to your general all-round wellbeing. Contact the Community Trust at the BRIC for full details of the sessions at different venues in the area or turn up for either one or both of the hour-long sessions on Friday evening between 5pm and 7pm.