A KEEPY-UPPY king who holds the world record for the longest distance juggling a football is giving me a tricks taster session ahead of his charity challenge.
Former journalist Matt Wolstenholme, 31, of Kingsbury Road, Kingsbury, works as a personal trainer and a professional freestyle footballer who has a repertoire of eye-catching, impressive and skillful moves.
We meet for the tutorial in Roe Green Park in Kingsbury Road where he had been practising for a fundraising stunt in which he juggled a ball backwards around the entire circumference of Wembley Stadium – but more of that later.
I turn up in a replica FC Barcelona shirt in the hope I can channel the spirit of the Spanish club’s current and former stars including Ronaldinho, Lionel Messi and Johan Cruyff, all renowned for their jaw-dropping close control.
My own prowess does leave a lot to be desired but Matt seems happy I can at least string a few keepy-uppies together with both feet.
It is a performance that surprises even myself given that my limited five-a-side career has been marked more by wayward ambitious passes and mistimed tackles than being able to keep the ball.
We first try flicking the ball up and catching it on the back of the neck and Matt starts off by getting me to bend at the waist, tilting my head back and keeping my shoulder blades back by cocking my arms ‘like chicken wings’ in order to trap the ball.
I toss the ball up and try to duck down low while keeping the same head position and while I fail to manage to catch the ball, I get increasingly closer and the progress buoys me.
It is then I realise this kind of training is highly addictive and Matt coaches me through resting the ball on the back of the neck and climbing down into a press up position.
Matt then gives me a short demonstration of his skills including sitting down keepy-uppies, flipping the ball and catching on his shoulder, and ‘round the worlds’ where a player kicks the ball up and then quickly loops his leg over the ball in the air in time to kick it again at the bottom of the drop.
He tells me he is aiming to perfect the double ‘around the world’ where his foot will pass twice around the ball in mid-air.
The married 31-year-old says: “I was about eight years old when I started trying out tricks and it was just an extension of playing football all the time. I never really thought it was an end in itself.”
He did play football competitively until an injury ended his career.
He was a local, then national newspaper reporter until falling out of love with the profession and opting to retrain as a personal trainer.
In the meantime, he became such a good freestyle footballer that he decided to use the athletics track at Harrow School to set a new world record for the longest distance juggling a football at 20km.
“There were no breaks and no dropping of the ball,” Matt explains.
“The hardest bit is concentrating because it’s just one thing over and over. We estimated it was about 36,000 keepy-uppies.
“It’s a case of thinking about why you’re doing it, and a world record is not something that everyone has. After that it went a little bit crazy and had 100,000 YouTube hits in two days and it’s been viewed in more than 170 countries. I had lots of people from all around the world emailing me, and I never expected that in a million years. That was the turning point.”
He now performs corporate shows and provides football trick masterclasses to children.
In between seeing clients in his role as a personal trainer, Matt practises between five and 10 hours a week, sometimes even in his kitchen.
He said: “Your base is keepy-uppy. You need to make sure you’re in total control of the ball first.
“You get people talking about intuition and natural skill but I can’t really emphasis enough that the key is practice.”
He said the trick to a keepy-uppy is to let the ball drop as low as you dare before chipping it up again, because the higher you meet the ball, the less balanced you will be and you will end up having to chase the ball around to maintain the pattern.
Matt, whose favourite player is Real Madrid’s Cristiano Ronaldo but who also admires the same team’s former star Zinedine Zidane, spent five weeks training for his latest challenge: walking backwards around the circumference of Wembley Stadium while juggling a ball.
It took him more than an hour on Friday, August 16, and he chose to raise money for mental health charity Mind since he has suffered bouts of depression in the past.
He said: “It was really tough, very windy and rainy which didn’t help. I was quite disorientated and dizzy by the end.
“I’m proud of the achievement and it’s a pleasure to be able to raise money for Mind. I know from personal experience how debilitating mental illness can be. So far I’ve raised more than £600, but I would like to give that a boost now that I’ve actually done it.
“This wouldn’t have been possible without other people pitching in, so thanks to everybody who helped and the good people at Wembley Stadium for allowing me to give this weird and wonderful challenge a go.”
Matt’s mind-boggling challenges – and his cool head – have certainly encouraged me to head to the park with a ball and just practise repeatedly the little tricks he began to teach me.
I cannot say I have mastered any of the stunts yet but I have certainly got a new ambition when I put my boots on.