What happens when you take an average Essex Sunday league team, give them a bit of professional coaching and a bit of inspiration from Ray Wilkins? Well, the people at Nivea decided to find out – The Football Express was kindly invited along to find out how the project is coming along.
‘The Great Football Experiment’: Nivea’s idea is a simple one in principal: after a competition, one lucky team won the right to receive coaching from qualified FA coaches, some spanking new equipment and the advice of some experts in the game – including Ray Wilkins.
That team were Ivory FC – representatives of a Billericay nightspot and a somewhat run-of-the-mill Sunday league playing in a local Essex division (not even the top tier of their district). So, after a gruelling pre-season regime and the continued training from experienced heads, how are they getting along?
A few bloggers and journalists were invited along to meet a selection of the Ivory team and Ray, and to engage in a gentle training session. We were firstly put through our paces with a light warm-up and some quite basic technical drills – drills that would certainly make a difference to my Sunday side if they were incorporated into regular training (my team’s regular training consists of going to the pub). The training was finished off with a small round of 6 a-side between Ivory and the bloggers – under the watchful eye of ref Wilkins. Fortunately he did not need to intervene after any “tasty” challenges (everyone stayed on their feet) in what was a surprisingly competitive session – although I think, and I’m sure they would say the same, the Ivory boys went easy on us.
Post-exercise, we retired indoors for a beer and to question the Ivory about their whirlwind of a season thus far; the project is at present going very well – they sit top of the league following a resounding 5-1 victory at the weekend. The team were effusive in their appreciation of all the help they have received thus far, proclaiming they cannot possibly put a value on how much better it has made them on the field and the unexpected off-field impact. Already a close-knit and hardworking unit, the new regime has strengthened their unity and effort; the expectation has created an even stronger sense of endeavour as no one wants to be the one letting the team down in any capacity. The only possible downside has been the jealous ire of other teams in the division, who have been more than willing to show their resentment; Ivory have resolved not to rise to it and just let their football do the talking.
Ivory were generous with their time and more than willing to answer any questions put before them; they are genuinely grateful and amazed to be receiving the training and attention they are getting. Ray Wilkins was very complimentary when asked about working with the lads: “They’re good as gold. They-re lovely guys – they’re on your every word. I’m privileged to be with them.”
I had a chat with their manager, the immaculately (likely Nivea) groomed Will Rockett. He assured me that the team were working diligently, loving every minute of it and had not been forced to cut back on the important “social” aspect of the club, with team nights out still being an integral part of their culture, as it should be. Of the project as a whole, he probably summed up the Ivory experience best himself: “It’s amazing. We really are just the luckiest team.”
More of the bloggers’ Q&A with Ray can be read on The Entourage.
You can follow Matthew Campbell on twitter @mattc236.