To celebrate Melbourne City FC’s ongoing commitment to the Victorian community, we take a look at the City Strikers initiative, facilitated by the Club’s City in the Community (CITC) program during the 2015/16 season.
Run in conjunction with VicHealth, the City Strikers initiative delivers modified walking football programs to older people from culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) backgrounds, addressing multiple common barriers to sport participation.
The program is designed to improve fitness and health through a modified and slower version of the game, encouraging elderly members of the Victorian community and those with restricted mobility to be more active and use football as a vehicle to socialise.
CITC currently delivers weekly walking football programs to several locations across the city, engaging with over 432 seniors in Collingwood, Fawkner, Coburg, Whittlesea, Clayton, North Melbourne, Kensington, Glenroy and Flemington.
The Club’s City in the Community Week, held during the week of February 15-21, brought walking football to the residents of Foley House in Footscray; a residency for elderly men who have experienced homelessness, acquired brain injury and disability.
While most participants are initially apprehensive at learning football for the first time, program manager George Halkias believes the initiative has been a resounding success.
"Many of the seniors are initially nervous and apprehensive about joining in,” Halkias said.
“It is very satisfying to see them have a go and enjoy the activity. Before long, they cannot wait for each session and rave about the program to their own children and grandchildren."
"Some have also become City fans and follow the results of the Club with interest. They are now part of a larger family."
"The program has been hugely popular with both the participants and their carers describing how the activity has improved their overall fitness, motivation and social connectedness. Most importantly the participants enjoy the sessions, and some have even described it as the highlight of their week."
The program has also forged a special connection between the elderly community and their younger counterparts.
"Our programs uses young community leaders to assist in the facilitation and delivery of the sessions," Halkias said.
"Their enthusiasm rubs off on the seniors who enjoy their interaction and energy."
"As well, our young leaders hugely enjoy working with the senior participants and have grown in confidence as a result. They love hearing some great words of wisdom and tales from the seniors they are working with. It is pretty special to watch."
Volunteer Assistant, Sistelio, echoed just how powerful football can be as a tool to promote social inclusion.
“Soccer unites people. We have all sort of people who come from different part of the world,” he said. “At any stage in our life, we know we can count on soccer.”