The recent Covid-19 lockdown prevented footballers up and down the country from playing the beautiful game but for Phil Bollom every day matters. Thanks to the Be Active Wales fund Bollom, who is in his 70s, will be able to resume playing football as Graham Thomas reports.
Phil Bollom hopes to be running out for Waunarlwydd Football Club again very shortly – proving there’s life on the field yet for players in their 70s.
The Swansea club’s stalwart – who also still finds occasional time for judo – is the oldest player in the current line-up for their veterans’ team, who haven’t let age or a global pandemic get between them and the game they love.
Thanks to a grant of over £900 from the Be Active Wales Fund, Phil and his teammates are back training again and looking forward to the return of matches.
The club provides football for three senior teams, plus the veterans, and have links with a local football academy that enables regular activity for 70-odd children in the village.
With income coming mostly from members’ subscriptions – something they had not been receiving since lockdown back in March – Waunarlwydd were in severe difficulty with new outgoings essential for players to return to training sessions.
Chairman Dean Thomas-Welch says: “The big thing for us was to ensure that we had the facilities and the environment in place to encourage older members to come back to the club.
“We have players of all ages in the veterans’ team. Although it’s a team open to players over the age of 35, we have Phil, who’s a very fit guy in his 70s, plus others in their 60s and 50s, plus more in their 40s.
“For various reasons, some of them had been shielding in recent months, so we had to try and make sure people had the confidence to come back to football.”
It meant investing in hand-sanitizers, anti-bacterial spray, face masks, aprons and other forms of protective equipment, plus individual training bibs, balls and water bottles for each player.
With those measures in place, the club has managed to convince the vets to get back on Waunarlwydd Park for small-sided sessions, in readiness for what they hope will soon be fixtures – friendlies for the vets section and, at some stage, Swansea Senior League matches for the first, second and third teams.
“Any type of match would be really welcome for everyone at the club. We’ve really missed it,” adds Dean.
‘It’s obviously not going to be the same as before with people crowded into a dressing room and the interaction that brings, but with the right kind of social distancing in place, I think everyone in grass roots football is desperate to get back to playing.”
Waunarlwydd are used to showing staying power and the resilience to overcome setbacks.
It’s only five years since they faced a threatened loss of their park pitch – a beloved home for the past 40 years – as local authority budget cuts meant the ground fell into disrepair.
But a community asset transfer has enabled the club to take control of their home through a lease agreement, preserving their presence in the village, but also transferring responsibility for the upkeep to the club.
“The Be Active fund was very timely for us,” adds Dean. “We now have to budget for repairs and maintenance to the pitch, but we have had no income from players’ subs since the start of March.
“With a bill of around £2,000 for essential work on the pitch, we were in real need of some financial assistance.”
It’s not just a sporting need being met by the club, either. Social ties are maintained through the club, which is run from the bar room at the local pub, The Farmer’s Arms.
“For a lot of the local people, their social network is based around the football club. That’s how they stay in touch and make sure we can guard against social isolation.
“That’s just another reason why local football is so important.”