Hobby focus n Walking back to healthiness

He may no longer have the legs for running around the football field but Les Apps, 72, has found you can enjoy the beautiful game at walking pace...

When you ask Les Apps what he would do without football in his life, it’s the quietest he’s been since you’ve sat down with him

It’s just as well then that the man who begrudgingly refers to himself as a legend in Maidstone, has found a way to still play the beautiful game every week – at the age of 72.

He is a founder member of the Maidstone United Stragglers, a walking football team who take to the pitch every Friday night. He is about average age of the group, with one player aged 80 even turning up regularly to take part in the slowed-down version of the sport.

Les has always been football mad. He started playing at the age of six, represented his school and county, and went on to make a number of appearances for Maidstone United’s first-team in the late 1960s. He later played for Sittingbourne and Tunbridge Wells too, playing both in goal and in attack during his career. He continued to play Sunday football well into his 50s, but called it quits due to what he describes as “blurred vision” and general aches and pains. But, two years ago, the walking football team was set up – and Les is thrilled to be back playing the game he loves.

“It’s absolutely brilliant,” he said. “I’d heard about it before being played up north, but when from the moment we started playing it’s been great.

“There were a few injuries at first, it was pretty comical as well with some of us trying to run, but now we’ve got so much better. It’s not easy, it’s all about precision passing and getting into the right positions.

“I never thought I’d still be playing in my 70s. I was still playing local football when I was 54, but I’d never thought about getting back into it.”

For someone who has played football for all of his life, one thing that he gets out of the game is the camaraderie, which is pretty similar in walking football to what he was used to in his career. “We have a great group of blokes,” he added. “We play eight-a-side and even though we’re all getting on a bit, we love it. “It’s good exercise but it’s also good

Professionally, he worked at Charlie Walker’s in Stone Street, then spent 19 years working on a scrapyard before finishing his career working for Maidstone Borough Council, where he was a familiar face out and about doing a number of tasks.

He keeps scrapbooks of his time in the amateur game – Linda jokes that she saw the scrapbook before she met Les – but he does have some ill-effects from his years on the pitch. “I had to pack it in because I was getting blurred vision,” he says. “The footballs back in the day were so heavy, and when I played up front I was always good with my head.

“I saw a programme with former England striker Alan Shearer about the risks of dementia from heading footballs and I understand it. I’m

fun. We all shake hands after the game, we play it in the right spirit and we even manage the odd night out too.” He lives in Maidstone with his wife of 15 years with his wife, Linda. She has seven children, and one with Les, who also has two other children and three more step-children from a previous marriage. He has 25 grandchildren and five great-grandchildren.

always forgetting things. When I was playing Sunday League, I’d sometimes see three balls – I couldn’t go in goal because I wouldn’t know which one to save!

“I’ve got arthritis in my neck and I’ve got hip problems now, I’m always tossing and turning at night, but I want to keep playing walking football for as long as I can. We’ve got some players who’ve had heart problems and they love it to, so I just want to keep going.”

Among his school-time contemporaries was David Sadler, who went on to play for Manchester United and England, and the two are still in touch today.

“I used to be okay at a lot of sports, cricket – I wasn’t much of a batsman but I could bowl and field – darts, athletics. But football was always the number one for me.”

Les is an ambassador of Maidstone United, but although he has his own seat in the director’s box, he frequently abandons it on match days. “I like to get down there and get involved with the singing,” he said. “I love the club. “I used to play with Terry Casey, who’s one of the owners, and when he told me they were bringing the club back to Maidstone, I almost cried.“ “He and Oliver Ash have done a great job there and the club is in fantastic shape.”

The Stones’ current standing in the higher echelons of the top flight of non- league are a far cry from how it was when Les was playing, and he is thrilled with how it is going.

“Jay Saunders, the manager, is doing a fantastic job,” he added. “I speak to a lot of the players and get on well with them.

“I often chat to the goalkeeper Lee Worgan’s dad and he says to me that Lee might have found it hard to play in my day as it was a lot rougher and the balls were so heavy.

“But then again I don’t think I could play in the current era – the balls move all over the place in the air, they are so different. “I think walking football is just about perfect for me these days.” To find a walking football team near you, go to

Mid Kent Living 29

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