Hibs fans aiming to get match fit

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WITH his Hibs top straining slightly at the seams, Craig Paterson doesn't exactly look like the kind of chap to happily tuck into a sensible bowl of muesli after a vigorous morning jog.

His 17 stone 8lb bulk testifies - and he readily admits - that he's more of a "Who ate all the pies?" kind of guy. But as he hit 40 and days of running the length of the football pitch without quitting half-way for a breather became ever more distant, the Easter Road season ticker holder realised it was time for a lifestyle substitution.

"I play five a side, but I end up holding up my belly when I run," chuckles the dad of two, rubbing a hand over his impressive paunch.

"Look at SPL player David Weir. He's 40, like me, but he sails through games, week in, week out. If he can do that, then why shouldn't I?"

He's first to admit he's in a different fitness league to the Scotland defender. But now Craig, of Elm Row, is finally trying to offset the balance.

For along with 40 other dedicated Hibs supporters, he's answered the club's call to join a groundbreaking fitness scheme aimed at encouraging fans to ditch the half-time pies for a far healthier lifestyle.

Hibs' Football Fans in Training (FFIT) has just started putting the first 30 supporters like Craig through 12 weekly classes designed to get them to ditch well-cultivated beer bellies and couch potato lifestyles for something more in keeping with their on-field heroes' six packs.

Aimed at fans whose replica tops typically veer towards extra large, the free sessions combine nutrition advice with fitness and activity sessions.

Because it comes under the Hibs' banner, organisers hope it will give supporters added incentive to kick their weight and lazy lifestyles into touch.

"We've been amazed at the response we've had," says Hibs FFIT organiser Stewart McGuire, who is putting the group through their paces every Monday at Hibs Learning Centre, at the stadium complex.

"We haven't had a huge announcement about it, yet we've had more than 40 guys getting in touch asking if they can join.

"It's incredible how motivated everyone is."

The 250,000 FFIT scheme involves all 12 SPL clubs - a Hearts version at Tynecastle has also been inundated with requests from fans eager to sign up.

Devised by football club coaches, medical and sports science professionals, the sessions are split between classroom health education and physical activity training.

The idea, says Stewart, is simple: "Guys find it easier to improve their health if they're doing it together. And as they're football supporters, they already have a common bond.

"They like that it's brought to them through the club they support. Because it's a sports organisation, they feel they are with people who really understand them and know what they're doing.

"Of course, there's also an element of competition - they'll all want to be the best."

The Hibs recruits have been given a pedometer and encouraged to increase their daily steps. They also receive advice on food and portion size before being gradually introduced to more vigorous exercise.

"We're not talking marathons here," Stewart stresses as Craig holds his head in his hands and lets out a long groan. "But the idea is to do this together, start a healthy lifestyle and keep it going."

Chris Douglas, 31, nods enthusiastically. Despite varied attempts at dieting, his weight soared to 26 stones, a tight squeeze for his regular seat high in Easter Road's East Stand.

"I just like my fry ups too much," he grins. "But I want to be able to run after my 15-month-old daughter Sophie without getting out of breath. Plus, I need an operation, but the doctor says not until I get my weight down."

Chris, of Norman Rise, Dedridge in Livingston, adds: "I tried slimming classes, but they're unrealistic for me. They told me to eat Special K - I wanted steak," he laughs.

Fellow recruit Scott Keir, 47, of Milton Street, Abbeyhill, is almost slimline in comparison, nudging the scales at just over 15 stones.

The Scottish Government computer support worker and East Stand season ticket holder signed up to improve his fitness after a freak accident ended his football playing and coaching days. "I broke my ankle in a fall which has left me without full movement," he explains. "Playing football is a non-starter, but I still want to exercise.

"I'm relatively fit and I try to eat sensibly, but I can't shake the weight. Coming here is about giving myself a kick up the backside."

Taxi driver Craig of Elm Row, a West Stand season ticket holder, hopes the course will revitalise his family life - boosting his energy so that he can keep up with sons Ryan, 13 and Aran, six.

"I used to go to the gym every day, I was 13 and a half stones, I felt good. I was playing football and it was magic. But family life took over and I got lazy.

"At dinner, the kids get chicken nuggets and chips and dad gets chicken nuggets and chips," he shrugs.

"I follow Hibs every week, but I like a pie at half time and I go to the pub after the game and have eight pints washed down with 12 nips - that's far too much.

"I play five-a-side football once a week, but I come home knackered, sit in a chair and say to the wife and kids 'go get me a Coke' which defeats the purpose.

"We're all Hibs fans in this together," he adds.

"So even if it all gets too much, we can at least all still enjoy a good moan about the team."

&149 Further details from Hibs Football Fans in Training on 0131-661 2159, ext 2012; Hearts Education Community Trust on 0131-200 7265.

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All 12 SPL clubs are taking part in Football Fans in Training (FFIT) which has been developed between the Scottish Premier League Trust, The Football Pools Trust - which has donated 250,000 to its launch - and the Scottish Government.

Courses principally target overweight males aged from 35-65 with a BMI greater than 27 and trouser waist size upwards of 38ins. They combine diet advice on healthy foods and portion sizes with an exercise programme.

Hibs city rivals Hearts are running a similar fitness programme for fans - 30 are currently taking part with plans for a further 30 after Christmas.

Hearts community development manager Alan White says: "We originally thought this would be a hard thing to sell to the fans, but we've been overwhelmed by their response.

"Women tend to be interested in fitness and slimming classes, men less so. Creating something like this at a football club is a fantastic way to pull them in."