AN INFORMAL football team has newly launched in New Cumnock, providing free football training for men who have left amateur teams, can’t commit to regular practice or just fancy a good old-fashioned kickabout.

Afton Active Minds is a safe space for men of all ages and abilities to convene, play, chat and socialise while getting all the health benefits of exercise and being outdoors.

Run in conjunction with Glenafton Amateurs and spearheaded by Laura Pagan, a fitness instructor from Mauchline, the group also focuses on improving male mental health, and boasts a team of around 31 people.

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Laura said: “What happens to people who’ve been playing with amateur teams in the junior league when they finish up? Where do they go? Football stops for them and it hits people quite hard because football almost consumes your life and then suddenly you’re not getting to play anywhere.

“We want to focus on men’s mental health, allowing men physical activity. We have a number of ways we want to take forward the mental health side but just now it’s a case of turning up and playing football. It’s as simple as that.

“We have people travelling from places like Irvine, men and their sons playing together and boys of 15 and 16 playing with adults. It gives them a lot of confidence and the feedback we are getting is absolutely amazing.”

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Glenafton’s Steven Davidson kindly allowed the group use of Greenhead Playing Fields as well as changing facilities and goals. Shire Housing Association also gave them a funding boost, meaning organisers were able to buy training balls and bibs.

Laura continued: “It’s something as simple as asking people how they are and having the social side of it, allowing men to sit at the end of a game, have a drink and have the opportunity to talk.

“Sometimes it’s not about discussing their problems or things that are worrying them but taking them away from that for a bit. Loads of banter goes on within the team and it’s great to see friendships coming to life.

“Anyone can turn up and play – it doesn’t matter your fitness level or skill set. You can come once a month or all the time. It’s so open and accessible and that’s the way I want it to stay.”

Afton Active Minds meet on Thursdays at 6.30pm at Greenhead Playing Fields.