‘There was a lot of practice and a lot of pressure’

Dr John Steadman, archivist of Portsmouth History Centre based at Portsmouth Central Library     Picture:  Malcolm Wells

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Sean Barnes rolls a football from his head to his neck, around his shoulder, flips it to his nose and then his mouth.

He then sends the ball from his back so it spins right around his head and lands in the same position.

TRICKS Sean Barnes on the ball. Pictures: Allan Hutchings (122263-112)

TRICKS Sean Barnes on the ball. Pictures: Allan Hutchings (122263-112)

It’s an impressive display of control, focus and cool confidence. But for the laid-back teenager it’s all in a day’s work.

Sean is a football freestyler and in the enviable position of making money from the ball tricks he’s been learning since he was a young child.

But before anyone decides they should work on their skills and try for the ultimate keepy-uppy challenge, it’s far from being all play. Sean performs tricks in front of live audiences and when your goal is to make jaws drop, the pressure is on.

‘You can’t do anything wrong in a show,’ says the 18-year-old.

TRICKS Sean Barnes on the ball. Pictures: Allan Hutchings (122263-112)

TRICKS Sean Barnes on the ball. Pictures: Allan Hutchings (122263-112)

‘There’s not going to be a second chance to impress the audience. If I drop the ball, that’s me done. I can’t expect to be employed after that.’

So imagine juggling the ball with your feet, sending it around the leg for the classic around-the-world trick and performing thousands of keepy-ups with no margin for error.

‘You have to be focused,’ says Sean, demonstrating some skills at his West Leigh home.

‘But you can’t worry about what you’re doing or it’ll go wrong. I’m just quite laid back about it. I don’t let anything faze me.’

But even easy-going Sean felt the pressure when he filmed tricks for a new TV show. The skilful teenager is a member of professional freestyle team SBX and they have been competing on ITV1 show Let’s Get Gold.

Being aired in three shows from tonight until Saturday, Let’s Get Gold sees amateur and professional sports entertainment teams competing for a £100,000 prize.

These urban sports stars, from fields as far-reaching as cheerleading and martial arts, will be seen performing in front of judges footballer Rio Ferdinand, former cricketer Andrew ‘Freddie’ Flintoff, actress Martine McCutcheon and singer Una Healy. Show host is Vernon Kay

In a scene as tense as a penalty shoot-out, the SBX freestylers will be seen performing their tricks as a choreographed routine.

‘There was a lot of practice and a lot of pressure,’ explains Sean.

‘Obviously our timing had to be spot on and also we performed something that we wouldn’t normally do. You build up to your big move and basically it’s something you haven’t been able to do before. The day before, it was still going wrong.’

Obviously Sean is remaining tight-lipped about the result and viewers will have to wait and see what happens.

But he can talk about his work for SBX – an urban sports entertainment company that tours shows around the country and supplies professionals, including basketball performers, football freestylers and BMXers for film, television and live events.

Sean joined the football freestyle team a couple of months ago. The members all have nicknames and he is now known in the trade as Sean ‘Mr Biz’ Barnes. Among his team-mates are Ash ‘A-R’ Randall, a Cardiff football freestyler with four Guinness World Records to his name, and Dan ‘Big Red’ Magness, who comes from Milton Keynes and also holds four world records.

It’s a great opportunity for Sean to develop his skills with some of the most talented stars of the urban sports world. He has already toured UK holiday camps, performing mixed sports shows with SBX basketball players, skateboarders and BMXers.

But the only thing the former Havant Academy pupil is letting go to his head is the ball.

‘This is something I’ve always done for my own amusement,’ he says.

‘If people are entertained by it and want to see it, then brilliant. I haven’t got a problem with that.’

Sean’s obsession with the dips and flips of fancy off-pitch foot, head, shoulder and knee work began at an early age.

He was part of a regular 11-a-side team as a child but would practice his tricks at every opportunity – even in his mum’s living room!

He’s still juggling the ball there now, with impressive confidence considering the ornaments. Sean says: ‘Mum always said to me ‘‘I must be the only mum who would let you do keep ups inside the house’’. But I’ve never broken anything.’

Sean says his skills aren’t extraordinary and that anyone can learn, but the fact that his mum has never been left sweeping up the family valuables would suggest otherwise.

But what really helped him was signing up for Brazilian Soccer Schools, where teaching is based on ball skills.

‘In the UK there’s this attitude that a player has to be big and strong or, if not that, extremely quick. But in most other countries a lot of training focuses on technique.’

But freestyle is purely entertainment; the only things it has in common with the sport are the ball and skilful feet. Most professionals, says Sean, never play football.

‘People make their living from this and they’re scared they might injure themselves if they play on a team,’ he says.

As a player in the Havant and Waterlooville under-19s, Sean has no desire to give up the sport he loves, even though he’s found his professional niche elsewhere. He’s also determined to keep his feet, if not the ball, on the ground and is preparing to go to university.

‘Football is my passion, so I wouldn’t want to give it up because I’m scared of injury. I’m thinking about all the things I might be able to do, which is why I want to go to university,’ he says.

Meanwhile the living room has survived another keepy-up session and Sean’s family remain proud of the nimble-footed teen.