A group of friends who formed a football team to help tackle feelings associated with isolation, bereavement and marriage breakdown are reveling in World Cup glory after winning the title for England at the first ever Walking Football World Cup last weekend (June 1 and 2).
Men United AKA Pele's Pearls walked their way into the final of the inaugural competition, which was held at Leyton Orient's The Breyer Group Stadium on Saturday and Sunday.
Selected to represent England following earlier success in the 2019 FA People's Cup, they took on Cyprus, Turkey, India, France, Singapore and Italy. The group of friends, aged between 53 and 59, won four matches and drew one before losing to Italy to come second in their group.
They went on to beat Belgium 1-0 in the semi-final before claiming victory for England in a 2-0 win over France in the Walking Football World Cup final.
Reunited at the funeral of a mutual friend, the former school friends, decided to get together more regularly to support each other and formed the five-a-side team.
Turning adversity into triumph they began their road to success after enterting the 2019 FA People's Cup. They saw off thousands of others in a series of heats which began in February and collected their winner's trophy at Wembley Stadium in front of 85,000 fans at the FA Cup Final on Saturday 18 May .
Goalkeeper Michael Clacken said: "Saying goodbye to one of our good friends made us realise we needed to stay in touch and get together more often, you never know when you might need each other."
The 54-year-old from Walsall contacted Ageing Better in Birmingham for support. In partnership with different organisations across the city, led by Birmingham Voluntary Service Council (BVSC), the Ageing Better in Birmingham initiative is working to reduce isolation for people over 50 in the city.
Michael added: "We were given funding for kit and a space to play. It motivated us, because we all looked forward to meeting up each week.
"Several of us have experienced isolation, bereavement and marriage breakdown and the football has really given us a lift. I've given up smoking and a number of us have lost more than a stone in weight. When you introduce an activity centered around a passion for football, it's like a magnet, everyone comes out."
Joining other grassroots teams from across the country, the team signed up to compete in The FA People's Cup 2019, which is the largest small-sided football competition in the country, made up of 15 different categories. Their journey will now continue when they take on Shrewsbury in the second round of the National Cup on July 6 and 7.
Ageing Better in Birmingham Programme Director, Stephen Raybold, said: "The programme provides that life-changing kick-start which allows people to take control of their life, to start activities for themselves together with their friends and neighbours and enables them to continue long into the future.
"This is brilliant! It's great to have played a part in supporting this group of men who thoroughly enjoy spending time together and are such an inspiration to others to make a change for the better."