My Herts Life: Paul Wood, freestyle footballer
- Credit: Archant
The Welwyn Garden City football freestyle phenomenon talks to Kiran Reynolds about fighting back from a career-ending injury, busking 5,000 miles to meet Maradona, and who is going to win this summer’s World Cup
How did you become a football freestyler? Destiny and lots of hard work. I played football for Watford and Wimbledon and practised every day to perfect my skills. After ankle injuries, I couldn’t play on the pitch any more and fell into performing. I went to a Nike Freestyle competition with my double act Paul Klein and we beat 2,000 tricksters to the semi-finals. We were then commissioned by Orange to perform for a big promotion of its mobile phones – it all just grew from there.
What’s the highlight of your career so far? Meeting my football idol, Diego Maradona, when being filmed for In The Hands of the Gods. It’s the third best selling feature docu-mentary in the world, for which five of us busked all the way from New York to Argentina. We had no money for food, travel or accommodation but performed our tricks along the 5,253- mile journey, raising funds to get finally to Buenos Aires. It was the hardest but best thing I’ve ever accomplished.
What’s been your biggest freestyle event? Performing to 90,000 fans at Wembley and at the Cannes Film Festival for celebrities such as Jude Law, Jessica Simpson and Cesc Fabregas.
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You set up Woody’s Sports Academy to visit Herts schools and sports centres. What was the motivation? I wanted to create an equal soccer league for all and provide opportunities for children who may not necessarily have them. It’s great to give back to the community and have a stable company I can fall back on in the future. I’ve also introduced a free app – Elite Skillz Academy. It teaches freestyle skills that will enhance skills on the pitch.
Who do you go to for support? My dad and brother are my heroes. When I was injured, they kept me grounded and have always given me lots of encouragement. I always dreamed of a career where I could travel, see the world and use my football skills. They have supported me to achieve this.
How do you keep your nerve during a performance? I’m very much at home when performing at a football stadium for thousands of people. It’s an environment I’m used to. Corporate and private events can be more nerve-racking, so I visit the venue beforehand to make sure it’s safe and suitable for me to give a great performance. As long as I can do this, I’m fine.
Where will you watch the World Cup Final? I’m often flown out at short notice to perform somewhere abroad. If that doesn’t happen, then I’ll be on my sofa with no distractions, enjoying the beautiful game.
Who will win? It would be nice to see Holland in the final and Argentina play brilliantly so I think they have a good chance of lifting the cup.