EU funds to help football fans get fitter

The EuroFit project will build on the Football Fans in Training scheme. Picture: Contributed
The EuroFit project will build on the Football Fans in Training scheme. Picture: Contributed
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A LIFE sciences outfit from Glasgow has won a share of £5 million in European Union funding to help football fans improve their health.

PAL Technologies has developed devices that stick to patients’ thighs to measure how much time they spend in a sitting position each day and how much time they spend moving about.

The equipment is already used by doctors to keep track of their patients.

Now, as part of the EuroFit project which begins next month, the firm will develop about 1,000 low-cost versions of the devices that will sit in fans’ pockets and record their movements, sending the results to mobile phones and tablet computers.

EuroFit builds on the success of Football Fans in Training (FFIT), a scheme that has been running in Scotland for the past three seasons.

In FFIT, fans compete against each other to see how much weight they can lose and by how much they can improve their fitness.

In the 2010-11 season alone, 412 men shed 2,300kg of weight – the equivalent of 19,658 pies – and lost 2,400cm from their collective waist measurements, equal to more than three full-sized goal widths.

Fifteen Scottish football clubs have backed FFIT, with teams from England, the Netherlands, Norway and Portugal due to take part in the European version.

Both schemes are conducting scientific trials to accurately measure the effect of the initiatives on fans’ health.

Middle-aged men who watch football matches are among the most difficult groups to reach with healthy living messages, so researchers are using their loyalty to their clubs as a means to promote exercise regimes.

Douglas Maxwell, chief executive at PAL Technologies, which will receive about £500,000 through EuroFit, said: “We will spend the first six to 12 months developing our new device and will then work with the other participants to evaluate its effectiveness and roll it out to clubs.

“We have six staff at the moment and turn over about £600,000 a year. The project will lead to us taking on a further two or three staff.

“Ultimately, we may be able to work with a larger company to market our device – which could lead to an order of magnitude change in the size of our business.”

Glasgow University is leading the project, with Aberdeen, Dundee and Edinburgh universities also taking part.

Sally Wyke, interdisciplinary professor of health and wellbeing at Glasgow University, said: “About 15 clubs will take part in EuroFit, including the community arms of Arsenal and Newcastle, and Portuguese sides Benfica, Porto and Sporting Lisbon.

“The involvement of the SMEs in the project has been invaluable. They are full partners in this work, not just subcontractors.

“As well as Douglas Maxwell at PAL Technologies, we are also working with Healthy Stadia, which is based in Liverpool and is helping us to work with football clubs across Europe, and Pintail, a consultancy firm in Ireland. About 15 per cent of the funding from the project goes to the SMEs.”