2020 has certainly been a year like no other. It has been full of excitement and unprecedented challenges. It has taught us to be strong, to be resilient and to stay true to our values. Let me tell you a little more about our story to date and our rollercoaster of a year developing the Football Fun Factory.
The first two years of the FFF was incredibly exciting as I set up some sessions on the AstroTurf in Red Lodge and began an experimental coaching programme as a hobby. The concept was to make it all about fun, bringing together children of all abilities and experience levels and help them to fall in love with the game. After it really took off and went to a level I never really expected so quickly, I began working on the project full time and left my job as a consultant to go ‘all-in’ on the FFF. It was just me and for anyone building a business alone, I have great empathy – especially this year! To put so much time, energy and passion into something you believe in but without the necessary team, collaboration and sounding boards to work with is a really difficult thing to do. Everyone needs somebody to bounce an idea off and that’s what I was missing… somebody brilliant to work with to help take the FFF in the direction I wanted it to head.
Step forward Jonny Martin, my old mucker from Cambridge United. A super-talented individual, all-round great guy and friend. After months of conversations, we came up with a plan which involved Jonny becoming a ‘pilot franchisee’ and running his own version of the FFF for 12 months to prove that it could be delivered successfully in another area. When successful, we planned to roll it out with other franchises in different areas. But the months that followed were where the plan was completely thrown out of the window, in a good way, at first.
Jonny and I worked together at CUFC and in this time built a network of coaches that we trusted, admired and respected. Because of these relationships, the first 3 months of our journey in franchising caught fire! Before we could blink Kiel Waterfield-Jenkins and Luke Chadwick had joined the team and we could hardly believe that the Football Fun Factory was suddenly a team of four and that’s how we began 2020! But it didn’t stop there as we managed to catch the attention of former colleagues Kiefer Driscoll and Jordan Collins. The pair joined the FFF to transform the organisation from an initial concept to a team of six Head Coaches with a level of momentum that we could never have anticipated. The future looked incredibly exciting and we were riding a wave.
Then we encountered a speed bump. But the speed bump turned into a road block and has since turned to unpredictable black ice as we try to safely navigate the Football Fun Factory through the turbulent times of 2020. When we were told back in March that we would need to stop our programmes for three weeks due to a virus, we could hardly believe it! Three weeks – what are we going to do?! But three weeks became three months and after a period of anguish, stress and disappointment, fortunately, perspective took over. Once I had processed what was happening with the pandemic I realised that putting our plans on hold for the good of others and for the health of those we love and care for, was a small sacrifice.
During the spring/summer of this year, a period that has now sadly become known as ‘the first lockdown’, we did some really incredible work. We didn’t deliver a single coaching session but that three months made the FFF what it is today. We couldn’t do anything that was revenue-generating and to be honest the full team were in somewhat of a sticky financial position as well as being desperately disappointed by the pause to our programmes and progress. But again, we used the perspective that ‘all that really matters is the health of the people that we love’ to help pull us through and over this period we transformed the Football Fun Factory from a start-up franchise into a regional business that was speedily becoming the country’s fastest-growing football coaching franchise organisation. Jonny Martin and Luke Chadwick were integral in this transformation and I have loved working so closely with these two superstars throughout the past year. We’ve spent hours totaling weeks (maybe even months?) on Zoom calls, meeting people, recruiting Head Coaches and setting up partnerships.
When we got back to coaching in August we restarted with a Head Coach team double the size of when we stopped back in March. Suddenly there were twelve Head Coaches and the FFF was a different beast! You may wonder why I get so excited about our organisation growing and us taking on more Head Coaches and the reason is very simple. We’re on a mission to become the world’s leading children’s football coaching organisation and in my head it’s already a done deal – it’s happening, it’s in motion and it’s just a matter of time! But we’re just taking our first steps and we are humble enough to know we are lightyears away from where we want to be. We know too, that it will take an incredible amount of hard work to get us there. But with every new Head Coach comes a new franchise and a new community, bringing football fun to hundreds more children and that’s what really excites me – The mass impact that our company can make.
My ambition to grow the Football Fun Factory is borne out of the life changing impact that I know football has on so many young children and their families. Over the past 3 and a half years running the business and my past 15 years as a football coach, I have seen first-hand how much football can enlighten the lives of children and their parents, how much children love it and how proud the parents are when they watch them play. My personal goal is to create these experiences for as many children across this country as we possibly can. I truly believe that number can enter the millions.
The emotional connection to football means that it is far from ‘just a game’. It’s a huge factor and huge positive in so many people’s lives. So to have football taken away from us for 5 months of this year has been a bitter pill to swallow. Not just because we coaches have missed it, but because it’s incredibly sad that the thousands of children that now participate with the FFF have missed out on so much too. In April, May, June, July and November this year children missed out on the chance to be active, make friends, develop life skills and have fun. But the appetite people have for the game is so strong and this fuels our desire to achieve our goals at the Football Fun Factory in 2021 and beyond.
The recent November lockdown was a kick in the stomach and incredibly tough to take. After months of being resilient and positive in the face of adversity, the new restrictions stopped us in our tracks once more. I was devastated. Myself and the rest of the team knew that the children we coach would have to receive the worst possible news once again – that their football had to stop. Messages and emails from parents sharing their child’s sadness and disappointment flooded in and on a personal level I felt defeated, deflated and at an all-time low. This time I just felt completely exhausted by it all. It felt so unfair. We had worked so hard to make incredible progress against the odds and it had been snatched away once more. What’s more, our 6 new Head Coaches that were just a month into their new role and new business venture were set to be stopped in their tracks. But again, perspective kicked in and I realised that many were going through much worse. Many were losing their loved ones or even fighting for their own lives. When you consider the impact of this it really hits home that putting your business and passion on hold isn’t such a big deal in comparison. So we took a deep breath, pulled ourselves together and we went again.
The return to action in December has been fantastic and it has been our pleasure as coaches to welcome the children back. Whilst the immediate future looks a little uncertain, the medium to long term of the FFF is a dead cert. We’ll fulfil our potential and in doing so will bring many more wonderful experiences to many more children and their families. Our aim is simple; to make people happy, through football.
So, what will success look like for the FFF in three years’ time…? There will be Football Fun Factory communities everywhere. Children all over the UK will have access to our fun and exciting football experiences. Proud parents will line the perimeter of AstroTurf fences up and down the country as they watch their little superstars running around in their blue and yellow stripy football kits. We’re on a mission to bring football fun to everyone and our unique methods to the masses. This is just the start.
It’s been the hardest of years, for so many reasons. But we’ve come through it and as we reflect on the progress of the Football Fun Factory in 2020, we are proud of the 17 Head Coaches we have and thousands of children that we coach. In years to come when we tell our story we’ll talk about how we prevailed against the odds in the most difficult of circumstances and the reason that we will prevail is because we have the experiences of the children we coach in our hearts and minds and use this as our driver to keep striving for more. We are doing it for them as much as for ourselves.
Since September 2019 the Football Fun Factory has gone from a one-man-band to a team of seventeen superstar Head Coaches. In the past 4 months we have welcomed Dave Caicedo, Mike Mair, Lee Hayward, Matt Lee, Darryl Coakley, Freya Louis, Nathan Mitchell, Trevor Daniels, Glenn Sullivan, Matty Heneghan and Andy Rowe to our team. The team now offer our experiences across the whole of Cambridgeshire, Peterborough, Norwich and Ipswich. Between us all we coach over 1700 children per week and many more in the school holidays. Children as young as two years old are taking their first steps in football with the FFF and we are proud to be introducing so many children to such a wonderful and developmental game in a simple, yet so powerful way. I won’t pretend that this year has been easy but the achievements of our team are incredible and I could be more proud of them all.
So as we look forward to 2021 we do so with bags full of hope and enthusiasm. We look forward to a world with more freedom, less stress and anxiety and more fun. We’ll make it our mission to deliver the fun part! That’s who we are and what the FFF stands for.
For everyone that has taken the time to read this, thank you for following our journey so far and thank you for your support. Wishing you all a Happy New Year.