FEATURE: Ex-pro sets up football academy in St Albans
- Credit: Archant
“The powerful play goes on and you may contribute a verse – what will your verse be? – Walt Whitman.
Ben Herd has carved out quite a verse of his own. At 18 he signed a professional contract with Watford under Gianluca Vialli. At 21 the right-back entered the citadel of football, Wembley, in front of over 60,000 fans for Shrewsbury Town.
At 26 he captained Aldershot against reigning Premier League Champions Manchester United in the Carling Cup fourth round – receiving a nutmeg for good measure from Dimitar Berbatov. And a year later he played his 350th game in the football league.
Fast forward to 2015 and the 29-year-old is attempting to recruit 20 precocious talents to the ‘Ben Herd Pro Performance Soccer Academy’.
The St Albans based academy - offering a two year scholarship with a BTEC level 3 sport Diploma in partnership with TVS education (works with 60 football league clubs) – places heavy emphasis on holistic development and targets prodigious youngsters in year 11.
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“We want to produce ‘machines’,” said Ben, now a Boreham Wood player.
“We don’t utilise traditional methods as we believe in our alternative path. Those who sign up will be stunned by our quality training and I firmly believe we can take them very far.”
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So what is this mysterious approach to aggrandize and bolster a player’s development?
According to Herd it’s far from revolutionary - rather an eclectic mix of techniques from across the globe as well as ‘Ginga’ and ‘Capoeira’, a Brazilian dance and martial art respectively, which focuses on the biomechanics of movement.
“Ultimately we will be judged on our effectiveness and so far our trialists have been blown away by it,” Ben said.
“It’s really exciting and I cannot wait to get this project off the ground. I cannot tell you how much I believe in this.”
These trialists are Forest Green Rovers’ Rob Sinclair – commenting that his fitness and ball control have never been better – and Watford starlet Luke O’Nien who has become ‘hooked’ by Ben’s philosophy, training three hours a day, three times a week.
This philosophy was not available to Ben when he began his footballing education, a matter he now bemoans.
“I would have loved to have experienced this as I know it would have developed me further and I got to where I was with poor training,” admitted Ben.
The Hertfordshire native is bankrolling the project and has employed former Chelsea scout Sean Faulkner – once an understudy to world renowned performance coach Roger Spry, the Austrian National team conditioning coach – on a full time basis.
This transformation to entrepreneur, according to Ben, has been in the pipeline for some time, a stance that coincided with his desire to play abroad, – received lucrative offers from a French and Thai club - an ambition he no longer harbours.
“It felt like an absolute chasm between me and my family when I was away,” admitted Ben.
“They are the most important part of my life and it was a massive life lesson. I won’t say no to managing abroad in the future however.”
For now though, Ben is juggling parenthood, raising his two-year-old son, academy recruitment and playing for Conference South side Boreham Wood, all at one time; a rather hectic lifestyle.
“Nothing is ever given to you, you really have to work for it and I love what I am doing,” remarked Ben. “Being a professional footballer is the world’s easiest job – but it isn’t reality.”
“I want this academy to expand and flourish by combining education, which is imperative, and producing professional footballers.”
The final whistle has certainly not blown on this man’s career and the drive and passion that he exhibited as a player is very much alive as he turns the page to a new chapter in his life.