WATCH: Rangers manager Steven Gerrard takes on Kevin Thomson’s ‘wall challenge’
Mercifully, he has not badgered old team-mates into singing a line from Imagine. Neither has he videoed himself delivering a supposedly inspirational message while sitting in a petal strewn bath, a la Madonna.
What the Rangers youth coach has done is infinitely more valuable. By launching a craze of ‘keepie up’ – against a house wall, against a garage wall, even a rickety old fence – he’s raised a smile and contributed hugely to the on-going battle of how to keep youngsters amused at this time.
Thomson has obviously had to suspend his own Kevin Thomson Academy for the time being but wanted to devise a way to ensure pupils can continue bettering themselves. Hence the stream of videos on Instagram and Twitter – with the KTA challenge hashtag – featuring girls and boys and mums, dads and grannies and grandads as well as current professional players, including Chelsea’s Billy Gilmour and Mason Mount, trying to keep a ball in the air by hitting it back and forth against a wall with alternate touches of their left and right foot. Those who make it to 50 can nominate others to take the task.
“My phone has frozen a few times to say the least. It’s caught people’s imagination, hasn’t it?” says Thomson. A few big hitters, including Rangers manager Steven Gerrard, former Liverpool midfielder Jamie Redknapp and Celtic skipper Scott Brown, have helped the challenge really take off over the weekend.
Thomson has got to know Gerrard from Rangers, where the former Ibrox midfielder is a well-regarded coach of the Under-18s. Brown is a best mate from their days spent running the Hibs midfield together.
The current Celtic skipper finally gave in to Thomson’s badgering on Saturday. “Scotty was a hard one,” he says. “It is difficult with the politics within football. It was a good bit of fun and has nothing to do with colours, or what team anyone plays for. Any fan would like to see their heroes do it.”
He WhatsApped Gerrard last week. There were no cross-city complications on this occasion. “I said ‘look gaffer, I don’t want to be a pest, but I have set up a wee challenge for the academy, it’s taken off a bit online’. I was just wondering if you fancied doing it and posting it for us’. He messaged me straight back saying ‘no bother, give me a day or two’. But he got back to me later that night. He sent the video and texted me saying his thighs were screaming.”
Thomson has adapted the challenge slightly. The video he initially uploaded was of himself keeping the ball up using the inside of the foot. “It is something I am always trying to tell the kids – pass it with the inside of your foot, control it with the inside of your foot,” he said. “It’s just a good habit to have. Obviously it is the biggest surface of your foot.”
The following day he decided that this was too easy. It now had to be ‘laces’ – i.e. with the front of the foot. “There’s Jamie Redknapp asking me to come up with something else now!” he says. “I am not sure I want to do a different challenge to the wall – it seems to have caught people’s imagination. Most people have access to a wall or a garden fence.”
That’s the beauty of it. All that’s required is a ball – or tennis ball (Peter Lovenkrands’ chosen item) or even a rugby ball, in the case of one Merchiston Castle pupil – and an upright structure of some sort.
Thomson credits Gordon Strachan, pictured left, his manager at Middlesbrough, for giving him the inspiration. “He used to say: ‘a ball and a wall, a wall and a ball – the wall is like your best friend. You get a million touches, it is always coming back to you.’ It still echoes in my head.”
Some of the popularity of all the clips being posted can be attributed to our natural inclination to be nosey. As Gerrard effortlessly knocks a ball against the wall of his house attention inevitably drifts to his surroundings.
“That’s probably helped,” said Thomson. “Everyone’s going: ‘what does their grass look like, what walls have they got, what colour is it? Oh, he’s got a plant pot hanging off his fence, or his astroturf is a bit fluffier than that guy’s astroturf!’”
Rarely has pebbledash had such exposure. Someone even suggested a roughcasting company should provide sponsorship. “People have said to me: ‘did it first time Tommo!’” he says. “Then you look at the rough cast all across the floor. You can tell they’ve been there all day practising!”
More than anything, it’s providing a diversion from the current situation. “It’s roughly taking people between 40 and 60 seconds,” says Thomson. “So, a minute max to put a smile on people’s faces when we’re all going through tough times. I found it quite funny the kids videoing their dads or mums and having a wee giggle when they fail or take a bad touch.”
It’s certainly been infectious – in the good meaning of the word. One of Thomson’s favourite clips is of old Rangers team-mate Barry Ferguson completing the challenge in what looks like his garage. Kenny Miller has been recruited, as has Kris Boyd – who provided a striker’s masterclass for the benefit of watching youngsters. He’s hoping Leigh Griffiths will join in the fun next.
It’s even stretched across the Atlantic. “DaMarcus Beasley was a big one,” says Thomson. “He’s tagged in Usain Bolt! If you managed to get a Wayne Rooney to do it and he tagged in Ronaldo. Ronaldo is not going to do it for Kevin Thomson but he might do it for Wayne Rooney. And if Ronaldo was to tag in Messi…”
l Kevin Thomson Academy videos can be found on YouTube.
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