WALKING football pioneer Gary McLaughlin this week admitted the sport had helped save his life.

Now he is encouraging others to pick up the baton and get involved in the sport.

The Walking Football Scotland chairman and Maybole man has been hugely influential in promoting the increasingly popular form of football.

Former footballer and referee Gary suffered a major heart scare a decade-and-a-half ago and facing up to his mortality forced a major change in lifestyle.

The former Ayrshire Weekly Press Chief Photographer, recalled: “We have football for life now.

“The day after my son Ben’s second birthday I had my first heart attack.

“I had been getting ready to go to work but felt unwell.

“I remember being in A& E lying on a table all wired up to the ECG and I had another heart attack.

“ I worried I could do die and was just thinking I wouldn’t able to see my kids growing up, my daughter Toni was just under four.

“I wanted to be a dad and to be with my kids for the rest of their lives.

“If I survived this I had to make changes to my lifestyle.

“ Eight or nine years later I had a second heart attack and I was encouraged by my wife (Elizabeth) to come and try walking football.

“Eventually I tried and football saved my life.

I was told by my cardiologist to exercise my heart and walking football was doing that. “It also improved my mental health.

“ I felt included at the sessions.

“It’s still competitive, guys still walk around thinking they are 20.

“Football has saved my life.”

Added Gary: “I really enjoy Walking Football as it has a lot of physical and mental health benefits and I would encourage others to become involved

“There are many local groups throughout the area.”

As chairman of Walking Football Scotland, Gary travels the length an breadth of the country, promoting the sport which is fast-growing and attracting new participants every week.

Walking Football is a big hit across Ayrshire.

The Ayr United Over-65s team recently celebrated National League success and the Over-50s team are challenging for the title.

The club also held a hugely successful tournament in June.

Junior team Girvan FC also organised weekly sessions as do Cumnock FC.

Classes are run regularly through the Ayr United Football Academy.

All across the county, new groups are springing up and new members are alway being sought.

For more details log on to the Walking Football Scotland Facebook page.