As the coronavirus pandemic rages on and despite a glimmer of hope that football might be on the verge of a return, fans around the world are becoming aware that they may not be able to return to their favourite stadiums for some time to come.
Tom Nolan, of tnfreestyle, is a social media influencer with more than 200,000 followers, and he is keen to share his story to inspire younger generations who are struggling to cope with the nationwide lockdown.
Despite his young age, the 20-year-old has enjoyed plenty of incredible moments so far, but it hasn’t always been an easy path.
Born and raised in Luton, the youngster started his journey in high school, completely unaware his childhood hobby would end up changing his life forever.
Speaking exclusively to Football FanCast, Nolan went on to talk about his career to date in a wide-ranging interview.
“I got to the point where I wasn’t enjoying football anymore, and I stopped playing altogether. However, I have always been obsessed with skills, and kept on practising tricks all the time.”
“In Year 11 I filmed my first video which made it onto Facebook and hit one million views. Brands then started to reach out, and then it got to a point where I had invites to go to some amazing events. But obviously, I’m still in school at this point.”
“One time I remember I had the chance to race Hector Bellerin with Puma, and I thought, okay I’ve got sociology twice, or I can race Bellerin, and come back and tell the story.”
“I eventually got picked up to work on some Adidas shoots. Obviously, there was no money involved at this point, so it was still just a hobby.”
Indeed, his adverts went down so well, he is now an official Adidas athlete.
Regardless, the talented star feels he owes a lot to the F2 Freestylers, who really took him under their wing early on in his career. Billy Wingrove and Jeremy Lynch are a freestyle football duo best known for producing popular video content on YouTube.
“I didn’t want to get a normal job, I wanted to be a freestyler, because I used to watch the F2 all the time at school. A lot of what I’m doing now is actually because of them.”
“I even got the chance to represent their team in the Wembley Cup. The whole reason I think I can do this as a job is because over the years both of them have looked out for me massively.”
“I grew up idolising them, and ended up working with them on an Adidas advert, and made the most of the opportunity. Billy gave me a shout out on his Instagram page, and it made me think, I could really change my life here.”
“I really do give a lot of credit to Billy and Jezza for all their support over the years, and they have been great mentors to me throughout my career so far.”
The lifelong Manchester United fan has even trained with the likes of Scott McTominay and Juan Mata during a pre-season tour of America.
“I was lucky enough to be sent out to LA to experience a pre-season tour with the Manchester United squad from a player’s point of view. It was the best experience I have ever had in my life.”
“We went to training and took part in three different drills, and it makes you realise how big the players are in person!”
“I ended up speaking to some of the players, particularly Scott McTominay and Juan Mata, who are the two nicest people I have ever met in football.”
“At that time McTominay had just broken into the first team, and we were in a circle messing about with different tricks, so they asked to see some of my highlights.”
“Mata told me you have a talent and you really should stick with it, which was one of the best pieces of advice I have ever heard from anyone, especially someone at the top level of the game.”
When asked by Football FanCast to share his thoughts on Jadon Sancho’s future, Nolan suggested his countryman should leave Borussia Dortmund this summer. Sancho has been linked with a move to Old Trafford in recent months.
“I don’t think Jadon Sancho has anything to lose. It is the perfect time for Sancho to come to Manchester United, especially with the England link-up, and it is always exciting to see a young British talent breakthrough. Age isn’t everything and I think he is more than good enough.”
After sustaining a serious injury that ruled him out for a significant amount of time, Nolan knows a thing or two about bouncing back from a devastating setback.
“Everything was going so well – until I tore my ligaments.”
“There is a gap of about nine months, maybe even more, in my content. I was playing for the F2FC team in a charity match, which was an amazing experience, although I probably shouldn’t have played as I was quite concerned about my ankle beforehand.”
“At first, I was told it was just a sprain, but it still didn’t feel right, and I unfortunately made the injury worse and worse as time went on.”
“During a five-a-side match, the ball hit my foot at an awkward angle, and a scan later revealed I had torn my ligaments, which put me out of action for a long time.”
As a viral content creator, the Englishman is well aware of the pressures influencers face online, and admits he was concerned about his future at the time.
“I was really worried about losing all of my followers, as I had worked so hard to build up my platform up until then, and they really are your bread and butter in my line of work.”
“I reached out to the guys at Soccer AM and said I promise it will be worth your while if you let me come and film some content.”
“I only had about an hour to film on a Friday. My time was running out, with about 15 minutes remaining, and I ended up flicking the ball over my head, and smacking it first time into the top bins. From the second I hit that volley, I knew everything was back on track.”
The video performed so well, it smashed more than 10 million views in under a month, which gave the youngster the confidence boost he needed.
After staging a hugely successful comeback, Nolan wants to use his platform to inspire his young audience and encourage them to chase their dreams.
“With everything going on at the moment, I really feel it is the perfect time for children to focus on themselves, and get something valuable out of this horrible coronavirus situation. If you can come back from a ligament tear, you can come back from isolating with a brand new skill set, at least put your time to good use.”
“There wasn’t really a Plan B, I put all my eggs in one basket, and thankfully it has all paid off. Now I’m close with my old teachers, and I get to do a lot of work with school classes, so it’s all worked out in the end.”
Check out Tom’s work here: www.tnfreestyle.com