WALKING Football Scotland Chairman Gary McLaughlin has been recognised for his dedication to the sport by UEFA.

The Maybole man and former Ayrshire Weekly Press chief photographer is the silver prize winner of the Best Grassroots Leader category in the UEFA Grassroots Awards 2019.

The award is issued to a coach or volunteer who has exhibited exceptional commitment and had a big impact, in numbers playing or social significance. In 2012, Gary discovered walking football having suffered from heart problems.

This discovery allowed him to play the sport he loved for the first time in years. After experiencing walking football, Gary could associate with the numerous scientific studies that proved the health benefits of involvement in walking football, from reducing blood pressure and cholesterol level to reduced levels of social isolation.

Gary first became Chairperson of Walking Football Alliance – a group of interested parties who came together in 2015 to help promote and expand walking football from the small number of groups scattered across the country.

In 2017, following a general meeting of all the interested walking football groups, clubs and partners, it was decided to create a voluntary participant-led organisation to move the sport forward. As Chairperson of the newly-formed Walking Football Scotland, Gary has secured full legal charity status for the organisation, allowing the group to secure funding from many different sources.

Gary, assisted by five other elected trustees, has driven the game to massive growth in the last few years. From its birth in 2012, walking football, through the efforts of Gary and Walking Football Scotland, now offers activity across Scotland in all six Scottish FA Regions, 30 Local Authority areas, 70 Member Clubs 40+ sessions weekly and 3,500+ participants weekly

Gary said: “I am both surprised and delighted at receiving this award. It’s something I love to do and I believe in. Football truly did save my life. I had two heart attacks, I have seven stents and walking football played a role in changing my life.”