Jamie Knight is one of the best freestyle footballers in the world.
The 25-year-old is originally from Northern Ireland but came to London to pursue his dreams.
Now he has worked with several Premier League footballers and travels the world to show off his tricks.
His biggest success so far was performing at the 2017 Champions League final in Cardiff alongside The Black-Eyed Peas.
Elephant Sport caught up with Jamie for a chat.
How did you get into freestyle football?
I’ve never actually played football for a team. From a young age, I knew I was only interested in the skills side of football. Ronaldinho blew me away with his skills on the pitch.
When I was 16 years old, I saw a video from a guy from Holland, Tousani, on YouTube, I didn’t even know freestyle football existed. So I tried doing some tricks in my back garden just for fun. I kept practicing and got quite good. I did try playing football in a team but where I’m from, Northern Ireland, how they taught us football at school was boring, and I was put off by that.
How does it work with coaching? Does anybody in freestyle football even have a coach?
No, nobody has a coach but nowadays because the sport got bigger there a lots of YouTube tutorials which can teach you some tricks. When I began, I watched some videos, not tutorials but just people doing tricks, and I wanted to do it myself so I kept trying.
When I was younger, every day when I came home from school and did my homework and after that I wouldn’t play the PlayStation, I just went straight outside to practice.
Is it difficult to motivate yourself everyday to go practice on your own?
Maybe 99% of people would just try it once and give up if a trick does not work, or you have a bad day. But I was just obsessed from the moment I started. Watching people on YouTube always motivated me; I wanted to be like them. And coming into school the next day, I could show my friends what I could do.
You are in the top 16 of the world at the moment. How do freestyle competitions work?
It’s similar to a break-dance competition. You have three one-on-one rounds. All the rounds are just 60 seconds long, I will get the ball for three seconds and my opponent will have the ball for 30 seconds. You get judged by difficulty, creativity, musicality, style and overall performance.
Because the sport is bigger now you have national and continental competitions, and there are three different world championships. The Red Bull World Finals is the big one.
Are you going to the Red Bull Finals in Tokyo next year?
No. I’m in the top 16 of the world right now, but I decided to stop competing for now and to just focus on myself. One hundred percent of my income comes from performing, not even sponsorships. Because freestyle football is such a young sport there is almost no money in competitions.
If I want to be in the top 16 again next year, I have to train more than three hours a day. I am 25 now so I want to prioritise my time in networking.
How did you become a professional?
I went to university in Manchester and got a degree in business, finance and economics. After that I went back to Belfast for a year and tried to figure out what to do with my life.
Then I got a job in an accountancy firm in Canary Wharf here in London. I liked working in an office and I liked my job, but I knew deep down that I had to give freestyle a go. So one day I walked into my boss’s office and said ‘I am going to bounce a football in my neck as my job’. He thought I’d completely lost the plot, but I’ve been doing freestyle football professional now for a year and a half.
During my first month as a professional, I really set myself up. I made a website, made new contacts and then everything took off. I’ve been to 18 different countries in 18 months. But it is a competitive world, so it’s very important to focus on your portfolio and advertising yourself.
What impact has social media on your career?
Social media is very important. I see it as a fancy CV. When people ask me what I do, I just show them my Instagram page. And it is a nice way to engage with people who follow you.
The business side is important as well. Nowadays many brands want to work together with influencers. An example is a cereal company; they saw that I almost have 60,000 followers so the next thing I know is that I am eating their cereal on Carnaby Street with a ball in my neck.
What’s your most watched video on social media?
I was performing in Orlando in September and there I met the head of social media at Real Madrid. They posted a video of me on their Instagram and it got over 2.5m views. And on my own page it is a video of me on the Great Wall of China.
What are your goals?
My goal for now is just to travel a lot and do what I like. Expand my network even more, and enjoy everything I do. Sometimes when you focus on the smaller things you forget the bigger picture. So every time I go to another country, I try to embrace everything because the next thing you know I will be an accountant again.
Photos courtesy of Jamie Knight. You can follow Jamie on Instagram @jamieknightfs