Hi Josh! Can you tell us a little bit about your background and how you came about starting Play With A Legend?
A few years ago I was working in TV Production on a sports show, during which period I had to organise a stag for my best friend. I must have already been on 10 stags in the previous two years and was desperately trying to think of something new for us to do!
It seemed a ridiculous idea initially, but I went about organising a football game at a stadium, with a PA announcer, physio on hand, full kit, referee, food and drink laid on – the full works! However, I pretended we were one man short for the game (21) and everyone was having a go at me for messing up the numbers. At that point there was a knock on the changing room door and in walked my best mates childhood hero, Nigel Winterburn (ex Arsenal and England footballer) to make sure we had a full team. I’d kept it a secret from everyone, the look on their faces remains my favourite ‘moment’ to date, even though it pre-dates setting up the company. We had an amazing day, Nigel was brilliant on and off the pitch and totally got into the spirit of it.
From then on, I quickly realised there could be a business here with the number of people who heard about it and then asked me to do it for stags, birthdays, corporate or charity events, so over the next few months I found a business partner in former football player Perry Groves, who I’d met through work, quit my job as a producer and started the company in March 2014.
Were there any particular challenges that you faced when setting up the business? How receptive were the Legends when you were getting started?
We had no money for marketing, but maybe that was a blessing as it means you can’t waste it! The biggest challenge at first was persuading a national events company that we could be the next ‘cool’ thing to do, and to get them to promote the concept on our behalf with us acting as the event supplier. We tried lots of smaller / medium events companies who ignored us and then luckily the UK’s biggest stag company, Chillisauce, loved it and we started working with them six months into the company. Things became a bit easier after that.
It took a little time to convince football legends to put their names to the concept, but having the approach come from a fellow former player made it much more straightforward. Ultimately the guys we deal with became footballers for the love of the game so the opportunity to play in a football match and to tell a few stories over a beer after the game is still something they enjoy doing – and of course they get paid for their time.
You create memorable experiences where fans get to meet their sporting heroes. What has been your most memorable PWAL experience/meet-up so far?
It was probably the first time we did an event at a Premier League stadium (Norwich City!) because it combined that childhood dream all football fans have of running out on their home pitch, and to do it with a couple of former players that participants had watched from the sidelines, was so special. The former players gave team talks in the dressing room, warmed the fans up on the pitch and then captained and encouraged them throughout the game. We had emails the next day from some of the participants saying it was the best day of their lives – a great feeling.
We love having the PWAL team as members of Work.Life in Camden. What made you decide to use a co-working space as your base and how have you found your time with us?
I ran the company out of my Dad’s office for over a year, but eventually we were keen to get away and start our own journey, especially when we started becoming more of an agency for the former players and found ourselves having more meetings – there’s only so many times you can go to a hotel lobby! We don’t need our own office space and co–working was the obvious solution! Work.Life was recommended and offered a friendly environment which gives us everything we need.
If dreams came true and budgets and players were 100% available (or still alive), what would be YOUR ultimate PWAL experience?
The ultimate PWAL experience for me would be to go back in time and play with a load of my mates at Highbury (the old Arsenal stadium) with some of my favourite players I watched growing up such as David Seaman, Tony Adams, Patrick Vieira and Thierry Henry. I’d also have to let Arsene Wenger be our manager for the day!
What’s next for PWAL and how can people find out more about you?
Talk to me or check out our site for more information! In terms of what is next, we recently teamed up with the Professional Cricketers Association to work on cricket events on a very similar model whilst we’re also currently working on a concept aimed more at women for hen parties and birthdays ready for 2017.
Also we are hiring a project co-ordinator, so please pass it on if you know someone who loves football and would like working with us!