Circular Soccer is a new innovative game that is set to change the way football is played.
Developed in Northern Ireland by the inventor, Professor Jim Dornan, father of actor Jamie Dornan, and, Jackie Evans, father of Manchester United’s Jonny Evans and Blackburn Rovers’ Corry Evans, Circular Soccer reinvents small-sided games by helping to develop players’ technical ability in a match situation.
Following worldwide trials at places such as the 2014 World Cup and Manchester United, the training aid, which has been backed by leading clubs, the IFA and FIFA, is specifically designed to get kids playing a higher tempo style of football that encourages creativity and enjoyment.
Suitable for 2-10 players, the game features a unique pop up Tri-Goal which folds up into a bag and can be played on any surface, resulting in its inclusion into the Sainsbury’s Active Kids program, meaning it has been made available to 30,000 schools throughout UK.
To find out more about Circular Soccer, we spoke to the men behind the idea and the production process, Jim and Jackie.
When did you come up with the idea?
Jackie Evans (JE): “The initial concept came from Jim Dornan around two years ago and my own involvement only really kicked in around a year-and-a-half ago. I had a chance meeting with Jim at the Belfast City Hall, where he let me have a look at it and I immediately liked it. I’ve spent the last 10 years in football development, in Belfast and at the Manchester United academy. This means my natural thought process is in football development.”
Jim Dornan (JD): “Well; really the first thought was way back, sort of 50 years ago, playing with my father. It is very hard to have a competitive game one-on-one so we sort of put something in the middle, like an oil drum or a tree or whatever. I then brought it up again about two years ago and we have gone from there. We filmed with Mike Bushell from the BBC and he thought it was incredible and couldn’t believe how it brings kids in. I appreciate that everyone says it’ fun but the way football is going now, this also just constantly lets you practice the skills that you use in the front and the back third; passing in triangles and shooting.
When did you realise that this could do well on a wide scale?
JE: “That was the most innocent part. I asked Jim to ship one over to England so I could share it with others. I took it to one of my colleagues at the time at Manchester United, who shared it with their 9-10 year olds, and they loved it. I then shared it to a few other football friends in the north-west of England and they backed up what United had said. This gave me the confidence that it could do well in the market.”
What makes Circular Soccer different to other training aids?
JE: “First and foremast it taps into everything children value when it comes to sport; it’s enjoyable, fun and all-inclusive. You’re always involved, every kid in the game has a part to play and anyone can play it. Obviously it’s great from the technical point of view as it gets kids playing their one-twos, but it’s great on the physical side too, which is the aspect government are keen on, as it keeps you on the move.”
JD: “I think there are three things, if I am being honest with you. Number one; you have got to have a competitive game within the family. Even if you are borrowing it from next door for 20 minutes. And secondly, when you have got 40 kids on a Saturday or a Sunday morning and you have got to do something with them, apart from playing 11-a-side or 5-a-side, then you are all just running in a load of goals, passing the ball to each other. So this gives it a competitive nature to training.”
The game has become more technical in recent years. Does Circular Soccer allow players to develop the skills needed in the modern day game?
JE: “There’s no doubt about that. There has been a big shift in British coaching when it comes to technical proficiency. Most other training aids usually involve just one player, who’s trying to improve their technique, but Circular Soccer has an advantage because it’s like being in a match situation. Improving your technique is great, but can you perform under pressure from opponents and do things at a good pace? It related to the modern game because most midfields now are five versus five and you have to be sharp on the ball. That’s where technical proficiency comes into play and where Circular Soccer will encourage that type of play in younger age groups.”
JD: “It does. I mean look at the way Bournemouth have come up, you know, keeping the ball on the ground and passing it and breaking through at their own freedom. But I actually think it would be good for English soccer, you know, British soccer, because there is something ingrained in British soccer all my life which I have noticed, which is to put a couple of big men up front and get the ball to them. The rest of Europe have developed over the last 20 years and I think Circular Soccer really does give kids much more opportunities to pass the ball, win the tackle, form triangles and then pass it in.”
So you think it could help improve young British players?
JE: “Yes. We’re trying to change the way football is taught. Now there’s more 3G, 4G and small sided pitches, where leagues are going on every night, then that’s the way the game is going as a recreation. These smaller games get everyone playing, instead of just sitting on the substitute’s bench, and sometimes are easier to participate in as they take place on a week night. If we can get younger kids playing like this more, and using aids like Circular Soccer, then we feel it will only help them play the game in the right way.”
What’s the reaction been like from people you’ve shown within the industry?
JD: “It’s been great. A lot of distributors have been in touch, which has been good. But we decided we would work through FIFA and get them to rubberstamp the whole thing, which they have done so far. The BBC’s Mike Bushell programme have spoken about it and the head of Tech at FIFA in Zurich was almost left scratching his head saying, “how come we haven’t thought of this before?”
JE: “The head of coaching at Manchester United, he looked at it and said, “I’ll tell you what Jackie, it looks like soccer and it feels like soccer”. He said it had to feel like soccer for the kids to some of the players. I mean a lot of the other coaching aids where you are firing into elasticated nets and doing all sorts of things, it is great fun and you can develop your skills, but it has got to feel like soccer to get the kids engaged in it.”
Your son, Jamie, and golfer, Rory McIlroy, got involved to do a promotional video. Tell us a bit more about that…
JE: “Jamie is very proud of his father for coming up with a really good football invention, especially because he’s from a non-football background. It was great to get them both involved because they have a really high profile but they also did it because they believe and see the value in it. All the feedback, from football and non-football people, has been very good because it’s different but so simple.”
JD: “A lot of us, including the girls, in the recreational park just couldn’t believe what was happening! It was Christmas Eve and we had Rory and Jamie and along came Paddy Wallace and Michael O’Neill as well. A lot of where we have got to so far has been from knowing some amazing people, from Northern Ireland and other contacts. So, it is upwards and onwards you know and hopefully, like I say, the big thing now is to get in with the best distributors.”
How good would it have been to have Circular Soccer when your kids were growing up?
JE: “I would’ve given anything to have that because we only had a small area by the side of the house where Jonny and Corry used to just pass the ball back on forwards against the wall, or we’d use the garage as a goal to see who could score the most. When we sold the house I think I had to change the garage door because it was in such bad condition.”
JD: “Jamie would’ve loved it. He went to school and played rugby, but he also played soccer and he still does play. But I remember when Jamie was on a set in Northern England somewhere and he phoned me up the next day and said, “Dad, the girl that does my make-up, her son plays for the England Under-14s and his father drove him last night three miles in the snow for a practice session, but when they got there, there was only eight of them there, so they cancelled it. How stupid was that? They should have been playing circular soccer and they would still be there”. He was right. He is very supportive and I suppose I wish I had thought of it earlier in my life but I think soccer has changed. My father played for Ireland, but in the days of the long ball. So now there is no excuse for having the ball in the air, it should be on the ground constantly. Circular Soccer will only help with that.”