Fighting the fat with football

Graham Millington explains how men in Leyton can score goals by avoiding bread rolls

Phillip Smith

Phillip Smith, who runs the Man v Fat programme at the Score Centre in Leyton

Phillip Smith is responsible for the gradual ‘disappearance’ of many overweight men – and I’m one of them.

No, Phillip is not a mafia hitman. Or a magician. He is the head of health and wellbeing at the Leyton Orient Trust and his job is to get us ‘blokes’ to mend our ways and get healthy. In effect, he wants our excessive tummies to disappear and uses our passion for football as a means of inspiring us to adopt healthier lifestyles.

Phillip runs a 14-week programme called ‘Man v Fat’, based at the Score Centre opposite Orient’s Matchroom Stadium. It is very cleverly designed to encourage us to be more active by playing six-a-side football within a very competitive league, with the final result of any game ultimately determined by whether or not team members have lost weight during the previous week.

Extra goals are awarded dependent on the number of team members who have lost weight during the previous week. For example, a recent game ended in a 3-2 defeat for my side on the pitch, but after weight calculations were included, we won 7-4!

Gavin Brown & Shazad Butt

Gavin Brown and Shazad Butt, regulars on the Man v Fat programme

Concerned about my weight, I joined the scheme in January with high hopes. The registration cost was less than a tenner and a fee of £6 is paid weekly. During the induction session I was weighed and my BMI calculated. This data was recorded in my personal handbook and is updated weekly. The handbook also reveals what sensible changes I could make to enhance my health in a sustainable way and offers links to the Man v Fat website, a discussion forum, and inspirational tales of men who have achieved their fitness goals. It provides access to support, guidance, and encouragement, and is the core of the programme.

Phillip energetically adopted this Football Association (FA) accredited scheme this year and explains how the programme motivates players such as myself: “Every week before the games the men are weighed and they understand that by not losing some weight each week, they are not only letting themselves down but also their team.”

This certainly acts as a spur to me and I do find it far easier to refuse unnecessary calories during the week knowing that the scales await me every Wednesday; I don’t want to disappoint my teammates.

Phillip encourages the players to make relatively small but profound changes to food intake and exercise. He rejects ‘faddy diets’ and largely ineffective visits to the gym. He says: “It’s all about being better informed, more thoughtful about your choices and having appropriate support when needed.”

I can add that it’s also great being with others who share my problems and are understanding and supportive. Or at least they are when you’re not playing against them – the games are very competitive!

The programme welcomes men from age 16 with all levels of soccer skill and waist size. All have reasons to be slimmer; Paul (aged 52) is attending his son’s wedding soon; Selly (aged 16) loves football and wants to play it better; while city broker Michael (aged 32) is sick of his life’s continual battle against obesity.

Phillip wants us to lose ten percent of our body mass during the programme and after six weeks the 75 players have so far lost a total of 285kg, an average of nearly 3kg per player. Phillip himself is very popular and an inspiration; he is knowledgeable, encouraging, and the programme is run with great professionalism.

For my part, I have lost 8kg so far, but sadly my goal-scoring skills seem to have disappeared in a similar fashion! Oh well, there’s always next Wednesday.

If you’re interested in joining the Man v Fat programme: