Like millions of kids growing up around the world, Ben Nuttall wanted to play football for a living.
But unlike millions of kids around the world, Ben achieved his dream.
But not how he could have ever imagined.
Instead of running out onto a pitch in front of thousands of fans every single week, Ben walks onto a stage and performs tricks in front of hundreds of people.
It’s not quite the career he envisaged when he joined Birmingham City at the age of 12 but it’s a career that he is thoroughly enjoying right now.
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Ben’s dreams of playing Premier League football with Birmingham were crushed when he was released as a teenager. He was a skilful winger but the club felt that he wasn’t strong enough to make the grade.
But he didn’t have too much time to sulk because days later, he stumbled across a video that would change his life.
“When I got released, I just stumbled across a video of someone doing freestyle football - it was the world champion at the time, Andrew Henderson," Ben told GIVEMESPORT. "I’d always liked doing skills but I’d never seen this properly and I didn’t realise freestyle was its own thing.”
When you were a kid, you probably saw an incredible goal on TV and tried to replicate it down the park.
Well, that freestyle video had the same effect on Ben.
“I thought it was a bit of fun so I thought I’d go and try some tricks,” Ben revealed. “I’ll try and do kick-ups and I’d try and beat my record of kick-ups in my garden. I basically got addicted on it and I kept trying more and more tricks.”
As he improved his skills, Ben reached a crossroads.
Did he work hard to try to get back into his beloved Birmingham academy and pursue his dream of becoming a professional footballer? Or does he focus on this new found love - freestyle football?
“I thought at the time I’d work on my strength and get back into Birmingham but the skills and freestyle stuff took my focus away and I forgot about Birmingham,” he admitted.
It was a big decision - especially as Ben was entering the freestyle game from the very bottom as he admits he could only really do “10 kick-ups”.
Six years on and Ben, now 19, has made a career for himself.
He's worked with the likes of Adidas and Manchester United. He performed at the 2018 Champions League final between Real Madrid and Liverpool in Kiev. He’s also showcased his skills on the pitch at the Emirates at half-time in a match between Arsenal and Manchester United.
Since leaving sixth-form, Ben’s life has been a whirlwind as a full-time football freestyler.
Performances at events, body-doubling for the likes of Phillip Schofield and Keith Lemon, hanging out with celebs and travelling all over the world to show off his tricks. It’s not a bad life.
But how has he gone from being able to do “10 kick-ups” to the very top?
“When I first started, I’d be in the garden or if it was raining in a car park or in the street. Wherever. Anything I could find really,” he recalled.
“I was just practising constantly. I didn’t consider it training because it wasn’t a chore. I was literally just doing it for fun. I was practising during any free-time I got. Before school, after school, lunchtime so it was like five hours a day, every day of the week. I started to get better and better.
“When I first started, I just found it fun. I had no idea in my head that it could be done as a career.
“When social media started to get really big when I was about 14, I just recorded clips of myself to see my progress. It was just for me really but more and more people started watching them. My videos started getting a bit of traction and it just naturally built up and I started making a name for myself.
“Brands asked me to work with them like Adidas and Manchester United. I just said ‘yes’ to everything and it got the ball rolling. It led to more and more things. I was still at school and I was travelling to Manchester United and going to events. At sixth form, I was getting really quite busy with it. I was travelling to Kiev for the Champions League final and that’s when I realised I could do it full-time. My aim then was just to get my A-levels done so I could properly concentrate on it.”
As Ben got better and better, he wanted to take things to the next level. So he set his sights on a few Guinness World Records.
He broke - or we should probably say smashed - two records back in the summer of 2018.
How many kick-ups could you do with a football in a minute? Chances are, you’ll have dropped it before the 60 seconds is up.
What about a rugby ball? Fewer than 10, right?
How about 187?
Ben achieved one Hundred and eighty-seven kick-ups with a rugby ball in one minute without dropping it.
We have a feeling Ben will be holding onto that particular record for a very long time.
Next up was the most neck passes in one minute, which Ben did with a friend. They smashed the record of 20 by managing 42. That record has since been snatched away from him, though.
More recently, Ben decided to make kick-ups a tad harder by tying 10kg weights on each of his ankles. Guinness invited him to their headquarters and live-streamed him attempting to break the most kick-ups in one minute with weights on his ankles. The record was 60. He reached 200. In 60 seconds.
Ben now plans to take a break from smashing world records but he does have his sights set on a quite incredible record in the future.
“I’d potentially like to do the most kick-ups with a football in the world ever, which I think is the record is about 24 hours,” Ben admitted. “I think I could do it.
“Physically I have the ability but I think it’s more of a mental challenge. I think after five minutes I’d probably get so bored. If I prepared for it properly, I could do it. But, yeah, I’d love to do that one.”
He once reached 10,000 kick-ups but to break that particular record, he’d need more than 200,000 touches.
Can you imagine the focus required to stand there for 24 hours and keep the ball in the air?
But freestyle football isn't all about the glamour and breaking world records. There's also a serious side to it - the UK and World Championships.
Ben came second in the UK Championships back in 2018 - a format similar to Soccer AM's 'Skillz Skool' section they used to have. Two players. Three rounds. Thirty seconds each. Best players advance to the next round.
With fans crowding around within touching distance, it must be a nerve-wracking experience.
But when it's not competition time, having something to focus on has definitely helped Ben, in his own words, “to stay on the straight and narrow and keep him off the streets”.
Which is why he wants to help other young kids focus their minds on freestyle football.
“Some of the kids I used to play football with ended up in youth prisons so I had an idea of going into these prisons to try and help them," Ben said.
“So last year I went to one in the midlands and taught them some of my tricks. I thought it was a good idea because a lot of them are into football and it’s something to get them active.
"I've also taught in schools and disabled schools. When a kid pulls off a trick, they're bouncing around and excited. But in youth prisons, it's a bit harder because they’re a bit quiet when they’ve done a trick but I know they’re enjoying it.
“They might not become a freestyler but it might give them something to focus on I think it might really help them.”
It certainly helped Ben get over the heartbreak of being released from Birmingham.
So, does Ben have any intention to start playing 11-a-side football again?
“Since I left Birmingham, I haven’t played an 11-a-side match because I’m doing my skills.
"Because I’m so into freestyling, my interest in football went down. If I get injured, I couldn’t earn a living and wouldn’t be able to practise. What I like about freestyle is that I haven’t got a coach telling me what to do.”
It may not be football as we know it, but Ben is so talented with the ball at his feet that he’s carved a career out of it.
Not many people are lucky enough to say that.News Now - Sport News