Chief supporter, trainer, sounding board and…tango aficionado? Assistant Coach of the England women’s team at the recent Four Nations Challenge, Jack Badu, is a man of many talents though, perhaps surprisingly, he doesn’t rate football as one.
“I did play football when I was young but for me, I didn’t want it as much as others who made it as footballers did,” he explains. “I didn’t really feel a professional football environment was where I would thrive as an individual and I feel far more of a connection to be at a tournament like this because this is what football is about.
“Football is the people’s game and it should always be focussed on the players, the coaches, the fans, the support networks and that’s where the real gold is. I don’t believe it’s in all the money in the game – that’s the wrong side of football – so I’d much rather be here.”
Jack began volunteering with the Homeless FA around five years ago and it was while working for charity Football Beyond Borders that he ran a workshop on football tango – bringing the two activities together to sharpen players’ physical reactions. Securing a role with homeless charity Centrepoint led to Jack working with Street Soccer London’s Craig McManus and into managing the women’s team.
Then the pandemic struck.
“After the second lockdown we made a decision to go online and make spaces for our participants to connect up virtually,” he says, “so we got the opportunity to get to know them on a deeper level. The big thing for me is that out on the football pitch there’s only so much of a connection you can make and off the pitch is where you get to meet people as individuals.
“Since then we’ve built a stronger bond because we’ve been able to sit down and have those conversations through a safe space and build those relationships. That then goes back into the players being able to really enjoy being back on the pitch – that’s the key thing. We’ve lost football, we’ve lost connection, we’ve lost human interaction and now we’re getting it back, little by little.”
The Four Nations Challenge has been a huge part of that return to normal, as far as Jack’s concerned.
“We’ve brought players from all over the country together and the key for us has been to really focus on them connecting as a group. Forget the football, the goals, the tactics – are they going to play for each other? What we’ve seen so far is that they really care about each other. They’re happy to sub on and sub off, even if someone’s a stronger player and someone’s a weaker player, the support is always there and that’s brilliant.”
In just a matter of a few days in Edinburgh, the change in all his players has been palpable.
“Have I seen a difference since they’ve been here? Massively!” Jack enthuses. “With some of the younger players, their confidence in themselves, whether they’ve played a lot of football or only a little bit has rocketed. They’re really coming out of their shells, really thinking ‘I’m a part of something bigger’ and that’s something they’ve created, not us. We’ve set the parameters and said ‘you guys go off and make this what you want it to be’ and they really have.
“I hope that regardless of the results they keep that energy and keep going with that.”
For Jack, personally, the event has been a game-changer too.
“This tournament has been brilliant. The relationships built here, whether it’s with Liverpool Homeless or Street Soccer Scotland, have been inspiring. At the end of the day you go to bed just having a real buzz about everything positive that’s happening around you and I wouldn’t give it up for anything.
“I couldn’t imagine doing anything else in the world.”