Research

Football Fans in Training – walking towards increased physical activity

Professor Nanette Mutrie and colleagues have created a walking programme that has led to increased levels of physical activity among male football fans.

Football fans in Training

Research cluster

Sport, Physical Education and Health Science

Research expert 

Professor Nanette Mutrie

Research centre

Physical Activity for Health Research Centre (PAHRC)

What was the problem? 

The 'obesity pandemic' is one of the most serious health issues facing modern societies, with implications both for individuals’ health and public spending on health and social care. While commercial and NHS weight management programmes are effective, they are predominantly attended by women.

What did we do?

Football Fans in Training (FFIT) was devised as a way of incentivising overweight men to attend weight management groups by giving them behind-the-scenes access to professional football clubs. The project was a collaboration across the Universities of Glasgow, Aberdeen, Dundee and Edinburgh.

Grounded in current behaviour change theory, the project used fans’ ‘home’ stadiums as supportive environments for a 12-week programme of classroom-based advice and pitch-side physical activity sessions. Each meeting involves teaching participants useful skills and techniques to become more active and improve their diet, followed by the physical activity session. An incremental walking programme complements these sessions. Designed by Mutrie, this rigorous, evidence-based programme gives participants a pedometer and goals to take more steps each week, during and after FFIT.

I had tried to do fitness things before, and my motivation had let me down. But coming to Hibs and doing the Football Fans in Training Programme gave me a lot more confidence to continue with it. Since then, I’ve done an 18 lap run around the pitch at Easter Road for charity. I play 90 minutes of football and 5-a-side. Things I wouldn’t have looked at before now, I do now.

FFIT participant, Hibernian FC, Edinburgh

What happened next? 

Football Fans in Training (FFIT) was piloted in 11 of Scotland’s top professional football clubs in autumn 2010 and spring 2011 with funding from Scotland’s Chief Scientist Office. It has since run for a further three seasons at Scottish Professional Football League (SPFL) clubs, with funding from the Scottish Government and the Football Pools.

By the end of the 2013-2014 football season, over 3,000 men had participated in the programme. Of these, 748 took part in one of the world’s first randomised control trials of a health programme delivered through professional sports clubs.

Funded by the National Institute for Health Research, the trial showed that FFIT was extremely popular among both participants and coaches and, being relatively inexpensive to deliver, was value for money. It also showed that – a year after the programme – participants’ step counts were higher and that, overall, the difference in their weight loss, compared to non-participants, was 4.94kg.

Participants valued the camaraderie and peer-support they received and coaches appreciated the clarity of FFIT’s key messages on healthy eating and physical activity. A qualitative study also evidenced the success of Mutrie’s pedometer-based walking programme in motivating and empowering men to self-monitor and progress to self-defined goals, including beginning other forms of physical activity.

The project’s findings have been instrumental in the development of the Europe-wide project, EuroFIT, which was awarded just under €6m by the European Commission. Launched in November 2013, EuroFIT completed a pilot study at Everton Football Club in July 2015 and ran until winter 2018 in 15 European clubs including Arsenal FC (UK), PSV Eindhoven (the Netherlands), FC Porto (Portugal) and Rosenborg Ballklub (Norway).

Between 2018 and 2020, the SPFL also collaborated with the European Football for Development Network in an Erasmus+ project to train coaches from nine European clubs to deliver FFIT. The Active Fans & Healthy Football League programme is now open to men and women in the UK, the Netherlands, Belgium, Germany, Hungary and Norway.

The FFIT project has also inspired independent teams in Canada, New Zealand and Australia to develop similar programmes in collaboration with professional teams in their respective national sports: Hockey, Rugby Union and Australian Rules Football.

The SPFL Trust continues to run the FFIT programme, with all of Scotland’s 12 premier league football clubs and 21 from lower divisions running FFIT for their fans. Since 2014, more than 5,000 male football fans and 2,000 women have now taken part in Scotland. Together, participants have lost more than 20,000 kg.

Related study programme

MSc Physical Activity for Health