Inspiring Performance: Rising Ballers / She’s A Baller

Photography: Alex De Mora / Interview: Tom Everest / Words: Liberty Papworth
4th July 2019

As part of Nike’s campaign to launch the new Premier League Merlin ball, we collaborated with five teams who represent the different pillars of London’s grassroots football culture. To embody the spirit that The Ball Means More, we explored the real power of women’s football across the city via the incredible initiatives that will inspire the next generation of ballers. With a commitment to transforming lives, the ones changing the game might just be the ones who change the world.

 

People said it wasn’t worth it. “Clubs like this didn’t exist for a reason.” But when the application doors opened and 3,000 entries flooded in, it was very clear. This club isn’t a luxury, it’s a necessity.

 

Rising Ballers is the voice for youth football. Their mission is to make sure no talent goes unnoticed. By breaking away from the traditional process, they have become the platform for unsigned youth players. Creating an empowering stage for London’s young talent; the ones who usually sit well under the radar of scouts for professional teams.

 

It’s a club which has grown from strength to strength. Since their very beginnings in 2016, they’ve recruited London’s most talented players into their own men’s football team; witnessed members transform from grass roots players to full professionals; established an academy and launched their women’s team ‘She’s A Baller’. Creating a fully integrated squad, where the two genders support each other rather than see themselves as separate entities. It is for this reason that they have become an inspiring home to the capital’s young footballing talent. We spoke to Rising Ballers founder Eni Shabani to find out how he ensures that London’s talent is given the right platform to shine.

How would you describe the grass roots football scene across the capital?

 

London is a melting pot of diversity. There are so many teams spreading their message through football, whether that is our Rising Ballers team creating opportunities or another team representing charitable causes. The breadth of football is unparalleled and the energy is evident – all you have to do is go to a tournament to see for yourself.

 

With so many teams – and also the rise of YouTube Sunday League Teams – how do you ensure that Rising Ballers is always one step ahead of the rest?

 

We’ll always be a step ahead because our vision is super clear. We don’t think of ourselves as just a ‘YouTube team’ – our grassroots movement is truly trying to help the lives of the unsigned ballers that we’re working with. Whether or not there’s cameras rolling, we’re going to keep doing that and as a result, people appreciate and resonate with it. The success stories coming out this year around our players will further reinforce that.

 

The most incredible thing about Rising Ballers and She’s A Baller, beyond the talent on the pitch, is the feeling of family and friendship that radiates from everything that you guys do. How much does the Rising Baller ethos reflect outside the pitch?

 

Family is the perfect word for Rising Ballers. Launching the women’s team this year was one of our most fulfilling projects, in doing so we’ve grown our grassroots family, on and off the pitch. Everyone feels a part of the same journey – our girls support the boys when they play and vice versa.

What does the game mean to you – and the entirety of Rising Ballers?

 

For our players, football is more than a sport. It’s a lifestyle – everyone in our family shares that and supports one another in growing their football journey.

 

Does it always surprise you just how significant football actually is?

 

It doesn’t surprise me as I’ve experienced it first hand. Football’s scale is unparalleled. At the top end, it has the power to inspire you, stretch you and make you believe you can achieve anything. On the other end, it brings people together in unity, even if it’s just for a casual kick-about at the park.

 

What is the greatest thing you’ve learned on the journey of RisingBallers?

 

It sounds cliche but it’s that very few things are impossible, so just do it if you believe in it. A platform like Rising Ballers never existed, and there were plenty of people telling us it didn’t exist for a reason – yet here we are. We used this same confidence this year to launch our women’s platform, @shesaballer. In 4 months, it’s become one of the most-talked about platforms promoting women’s football.

 

You’ve only been going since 2016 – which is a mad timeframe considering what you’ve achieved in such a short period of time. How do you reflect on the last few years?

 

Everyone always says this to us. It’s crazy but when me, Brendon & Jamie reflect on what we’ve achieved, we feel like we’ve only scratched the surface. We’re humbled by all the support we’ve received to get here, but this is genuinely only the start. We have some big plans for the future, and we can’t wait to continue repping the youth.

Beyond the pitch, what values do you instil in everyone that passes through the club?

 

Every single one of our players is on a journey to try and get signed by a professional club. To do so, we instil the traits that these clubs are looking for. Everyone is humble, grounded and dedicated to going the extra mile to achieve this.

 

What has been the biggest surprise or success story on the journey so far?

 

Seeing our boys get signed, hitting 150k followers organically, our #YoungestInCharge series – these are just a few. One of the surprises which people might not see in the open is the music side. Everyday, we shine a light on upcoming UK artists, through the music we select for our content. It’s got to the stage now where people will send us their exclusive tracks, asking for us to use it. This reinforces the cultural movement we capture, that transcends beyond football.

 

What grass roots initiatives do you have in place to make sure the legacy lies beyond the pitch?

 

On top of our men and women’s teams, we’re launching a college. The Rising Ballers College opens this September at Westway. We’re providing our students with football and education opportunities via a full-time 2 year course. This is a joint partnership with our friends at Westway and if things continue to go as well as they have, in a few decades time hopefully we’ll be walking through there and still seeing teenagers in full RB kit, attending one of the best sports colleges in London.

Do you think there is too much of a focus on the end goal? Should we be focussing more on the process, on the journey; as it’s not all about being professional footballers but it’s about the journey of improving and enjoying ourselves along the way…

 

Being involved in football and going down the path of professional football is an incredible journey that people should enjoy. We make sure we spread that message – some of our grassroots initiatives go beyond football, such as our college where if you don’t reach the end goal, there are other avenues. That being said, our players always stay as focused as possible on the end goal, because they are so motivated to reach it.

 

When you look at the new ball, what does the football represent or signify to you?

 

The ball, and the exclusivity of it, represents elite football and being at the top of your game. The ball’s design – the vibrant colours – pay homage to diverse English football culture, something that resonates strongly with Rising Ballers and who we are.

 

Pick up the Nike 2019/20 Premier League Merlin ball at Nike.com

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Issue 02: Heart & Soul
Ada Hegerberg, Andre Gray, Maya Jama, Andreas Perreira, Christian Pulisic
GAFFER Issue 02: ‘Heart & Soul.’ Honouring the way football cultivates community spirit, empowers the next generation and gives fans, teams and players something bigger and more beautiful to believe in. Be prepared to meet the people who are driving the culture to new heights and those who are set to change the face of the game forever.
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