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IN the Ibrox dressing rooms, a bunch of blokes – van drivers, printers, businessmen and dads – are discussing forthcoming fixtures and swapping recipes for soup.

That may not be exactly what you’d expect a bunch of dedicated football fans to be up to, but Rangers FC’s Football Fans in Training (FFIT) programme is full of surprises.

“It’s funny, but there we were, halfway through the course, all these big burly Rangers supporters and we are sitting talking about the best way to make carrot and coriander soup,” grins Gary Young, who has lost more than three stones on the 12-week project.

Football Fans in Training, or FFIT, is a hugely successful lifestyle programme aimed at men and women aged over 35 with a waist size of 38 inches or more.

It kicked off at 13 Scottish clubs and was hailed as a ‘gold standard’ initiative for helping men lose weight. Research published in medical journal The Lancet revealed that those taking part in FFIT lost an average of 13 pounds over the three month trial and nine months later had typically gained no more than one pound in weight.

At Rangers, the results are no less impressive. Delivered in partnership with the SPFL Trust, the Ibrox club’s community coaches have been delivering the programme for five years. Since then, 550 people have lost around 288 stones.

“It’s not a diet club, it’s about your whole lifestyle,” explains Gary, firmly. The 46-year-old from Kirkintilloch joined up because his efforts to lose weight had stalled and he had been diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes.

“I was 18 stone and struggling to get my weight down. The diabetes diagnosis gave me a bit of a fright so when a friend told me about FFIT I decided to give it a go.

“At the first session you got weighed and measured and the coaches chatted to you about what you ate and when you exercised.”

He adds: “It was obvious right away that I was eating the wrong things at the wrong times, because I worked shifts. Right away, you were getting really good advice about food and drink.”

In fact the course, which is split between classroom health education and physical activity sessions, covers everything from weight management and alcohol awareness to motivation and nutrition.

“The first exercise session was hard and I thought I’d never be able to do it, but as the weeks go on, you get more confident,” explains Gary.

“You just hand yourself over to the coaches, really, because you have complete confidence in them. They train professional footballers, they know what they are talking about. And when you start seeing the numbers on the scales coming down, and you feel fitter, you feel motivated to keep going.”

The chance to use the dressing rooms and train trackside at Ibrox is a big draw.

“You know you are using the same changing rooms and probably running on the same spot as your heroes from the club, and that’s really great,” says Gary.

“There’s a really friendly atmosphere too – no-one’s really superfit or out to embarrass you. We’re all likeminded guys, getting the chance to train at the club we support.

“Taking that first step can be really hard but you soon get over feeling nervous.”

Gary grins: “Rangers manager Mark Warburton came along at the end of the programme to congratulate us all and hand us our certificates, which was a really nice ending.”

Gary now weighs 13 stone and no longer has to take diabetes medication - and his newfound love of exercise and healthy eating has inspired the rest of his family too.

“It’s been infectious,” he laughs. “My son, Matthew, who is 15, plays football anyway, so he was always fit, but now I can train with him. We go out running together and I also go to the gym. My daughter Rhiannan who is 18 and my wife Julie have also caught the bug and we all pay much more attention to food labels and whatnot.

“There is so much rubbish out there, you don’t realise what you’re eating half the time. Being part of FFIT has definitely been an eye-opener and it’s made the whole family think about our diet and how much we exercise.”

He grins: “And we make our own soup, thanks to the tips from the dressing room…”

FFIT runs one evening per week for 12 weeks at Ibrox Stadium and it is completely free. The next courses start on February 8 and 12 for men and February 10 for women.

For details on eligibility and timings, email catrionamaclean@rangers.co.uk or phone 0141 580 8819.