Footy Addicts’ Zack makes a living from hosting up to 120 small-sided matches a month across London. We took our boots along to Archbishop’s Park in London in the hope of getting a game.
By Mike Backler. Images By Alex Daniel.
What constitutes a good small-sided kickabout? The tempo? The shape? Fair teams? Everyone taking a turn in goal? No-one slacking off and hiding upfront? Rules upheld with common sense? Positive communication? It has to be as close to a competitive game as possible, without crossing that line. And to be honest, very few kickabouts achieve that because they lack some of the above. Zack’s a pro at ensuring his games are fizzing with all of the above. Because he is actually a professional. A professional host of small-sided games on Footy Addicts. And a host of up to 120 games a month.
It’s possible for anyone to organise a game on Footy Addicts for free. But, to be a top host, you have to be assertive and affable and Zack is definitely both of those things. He clearly recognises the importance that every single person is getting the best possible experience they can. After all, it’s his profession. A quick switch of players when it gets one-sided. A positive word in a player’s ear who looks bereft of confidence. He respects that people have paid to be there. When we meet him at Archbishop’s Pitches near Waterloo Station in London for two hour back-to-back games, he’s in his element. Greeting players and getting things moving. Players who attend his games three times a week and have become close friends. Players from England, Italy, Spain, Colombia, Pakistan, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia and Scotland.
“Footy Addicts has changed my life. From a zero to hero. From my background, I never thought I’d be making a living doing this. With how I grew up, I never thought I’d have a laptop and a spreadsheet and entering in money and football matches. Growing up I always thought I’d be working as a farmer, I never thought I’d be playing on an astroturf pitch like that, with football boots that cost £100. I’ve always played without. With trainers or without, you just played. Fearless. It’s played a big role in my life. I feel brilliant seeing people getting together, making friends and that it’s my job. It makes me so happy.”
Zack grew up in the tough 04 arrondissement in Casablanca, and moved to London after travelling the world as a break dancer.
“Dance and football saved my life. It was a really rough neighbourhood where we grew up. When I was born there in the ’90s it was really dangerous to be in that community. You can’t guarantee what you’re going to be like, to grow up and become. I’d always imagined myself as a little gangster because of it, and so football and dance have changed my life.
“I moved to London five or six years ago. I was visiting my wife and I was really bored and had nothing to do so I googled ‘Play Football London Local’ and I did what all of the customers now do. I paid the money, turned up and played my first game and won man of the match. I messaged Jonathan (one of the founders of Footy Addicts) and said, ‘listen, if you ever need any ringers, I’m free, just give me a shout’. I love football so I was happy to. There are loads of hosts that play the games for free. Then they said we can just give you bibs, balls and how about getting a wee (Zack’s wife is Scottish) bit of cash. You don’t have to even play, just be there, organise, split the teams, ref the games.”
It wasn’t long before Zack was hosting his own games and making a small amount of money doing so. The next step was to begin taking on the bookings himself, which meant investment and commitment. Something he didn’t shy away from, though he recognised that hosting games is no easy process. Anyone that’s ever ran a grassroots team at any level, or even a weekly kickabout can testify to that. He soon realised that to be a successful Footy Addicts host, you need to have a strong bank of contacts. And some of the most important are the ones that can help you out at short notice! So having a few local contacts that are also avid footballers near to each venue can’t hurt at all. Thinking about this makes my head hurt. The idea of hosting 120 games in a month with all that last-minute upheaval is too much for me.
But as with anything, the more you build up your reputation, the more interest you get. And the more that these people trust you and become your friends, the less likely they are to let you down. And that has taken time.
“It takes a lot of time to be ok. At the moment it’s going really well. But as you know, in every industry you’ve got to promote what you do, and it takes a little while. So it probably took me two-to-three years to get to a point where I didn’t need to worry whether it’ll work. I’m making a living off it and I’m really happy. But it does take time. There are lots of other people trying to do it around other jobs but you have to give it as much time as possible. You have to invest your time. It’s been a long journey but the first two years were tough.
“A lot of people just think you can book a pitch, upload it on the app and that’s it, you make money. There’s so much more. You have to build a name for yourself. A lot of people are coming to your games because they know it’s you, they know it will be a good game and how long you’ve done it for and that it will be run properly. And that I’m always around.
“You also need to look after people. There are a lot of students from all across the world who don’t know anybody. I try to help as much as I can to get them settled into playing, how to get to the venue and to feel comfortable. I try to make it easier for them.”
So what’s the best part about being Footy Addicts’ most prolific host?
“I’ve made loads and loads of friends and this is the thing I love the most. Which is a brilliant thing in a new city. When I moved here, I had no-one and I started making friends when I started hosting games. It’s been fantastic. Some people become amazing friends and some even start living together, and that started through me so it feels brilliant.”
Zack introduces me to Michael. Michael is sixty years old and plays twice a day, seven days a week. “Michael comes every single day. It’s expensive to pay £14 every day for two hours and he always tells me, ‘money doesn’t bring me happiness’. The fact that he commits every single day at his age is so special. I imagine myself at his age doing the same. He’s an inspiration to me, and I find it really unique. It’s brilliant to get a role model like Michael on the pitch.”
Zack’s games embody all the traits that grassroots football should be about. Passion, respect, enthusiasm, inclusivity, friendship, good football. You get a lift by playing in them and they attract players that are looking for the same fulfillment from their football fix. If you turn up and you pay your money, you want your football to be worthwhile. And any Footy Addicts game that Zack is hosting will be exactly that.
Footy Addicts is open and everyone can join. Just download the app and get involved.