Creator Series introduces the individuals who are using their inspiration and talent to push football culture forward.
The brains behind Paris tournament Le Ballon, Jack Whelan has arguably built the most aesthetically-pleasing league in the game, with every match-day bringing a clash of creativity.
How did you get the idea for the league?
The inspirations behind the league have got to be the early iterations of the adidas Fanatic in New York City and elsewhere, as well as teams like Soho Warriors, Chinatown Soccer Club, Gastown FC (of which I was a part) and Nowhere FC. We were all trying to live football differently, but each in our own unique way.
After our bar which we founded for the World Cup in 2014, we saw that there was a real untapped love for football in Paris, especially amongst the ‘creative’ types who before had been too scared/embarrassed to show any love for the game. It’s still not that cool to like football in Paris, but we’re working on it!
Was there a lot of consideration about the format?
Not at all! We were categorically against doing “a Five”. We knew we wanted something that resembled real football, with proper kits, refs, stadia and everything, not just a kickabout in a warehouse on the outskirts of the city. We had coaches and training sessions where we were all together (100 of us!) on the pitch.
Self-improvement and good relationships between the players across all the teams was very important to us. Basically, when you train, you’re Le Ballon FC. When you play your matches, you’re River Dubplate or whoever. We watched guys get better, we’ve seen friendships and working relationships flourish and be established over the last three years. It’s been good.
What do you feel the teams have in common?
They all want to win! The first season was a little calmer, a bit more ‘matey’. We were trying to push back against the feisty Parisian amateur leagues with good-natured creatives on and off the pitch. These days, the teams have been able to find a wealth of quality players who also happen to do very cool things in their day to day lives! It’s incredible! Who knew so many fashion-designers used to play for the PSG Youth Academy?!
On the whole though, I think the most common thread amongst the teams is the desire to do something cool with their ‘project.’ They were all founded (apart from Bled FC) especially for this league, but for the captains and players of the teams, they have become massively important to them in a very short space of time.
Liverpool. In the league, River Dubplate y nada mas. It’s the team I play for!
How has it grown over the three seasons?
The level has grown for sure! In the first year we had a few guys who had barely kicked a ball in their lives, these days we’ve also got 3 ex-pros that boast Manchester United, Fulham, PSG, Monaco and the French National Team between them! Safe to say, they’re quite handy!
Off the pitch, we’ve grown as well. We’ve played at Clairefontaine, and Stade Charlety, we’ve gone on tour to NYC, Berlin, Tokyo, Liverpool, Barcelona and more. We’ve made clothes with people from all over, played friendlies against global opponents. We’re just happy that people seem to give a bit of a shit about what we’re doing – hopefully that means we’re pulling in the right direction.
How did the partnership with Patrick come about?
With great fortune! Kenji from Patrick was over in Paris for fashion week. He knew a guy in the 75ers squad and went for a kickabout with them (during our off-season). He met a good pal and ex-colleague who invited him to come meet us at our office the following day.
We talked off the cuff about making a shoe, a boot or whatever. He went back to Japan and a few weeks later told us that we were doing a shoe and that he wanted to do a tournament to get the Patrick name out there a little bit. He wanted to do it with Le Ballon branding to celebrate the shoe collab – obviously, we were massively up for it!
Kenji, Taro and the whole Patrick crew knocked it out the park with all their work – and we were like kids at Christmas for two weeks in Tokyo. It is one of the best souvenirs of my life.
Do you think brands do enough to promote creativity in the game?
Ha! I could go on for hours on this, but in short, no.
Rereleasing everything from your back catalogue like it’s 1994 isn’t creative. Force-feeding the narrative of ‘creative’ footballers while at the same time encouraging their cult of celebrity, isn’t creative.
I’m worry that this ‘creative’ or ‘culture’ scene is going to eat itself, a bit like the football casuals world did back in the day. Maybe I’m too cynical, but genuine freshness from the big brands is pretty rare. It tends to be cookie-cutter creativity or just a straight rip-off of what someone else has already done. It’s tiresome. The likes of The Ringleaders do it better, CityBoys FC do it better.
I’m not completely jaded though. The new Nike and adidas kits for the World Cup are lovely, especially that Nigeria set. The new Mercurial Vapor 360 thing is pretty impressive to behold as well. I think it’s a question of balance, and at the moment, something is out of whack. Innovation is on point, inspiration and creativity are certainly lacking, despite what they will try to tell you.
What other projects do you have coming up?
After having hated on everyone else, I’m going to open us up for an attack here! Our capsule collection with DYNE.LIFE is going to drop in May, so we’re excited for that. Massively technical, heat-welded and thermo-bonded designs – not a single stitch in the whole collection. There’s a kit, a tracksuit, trousers and a jacket as well as some t-shirts and hoodies. We’re excited for it, working with Christopher, Damon and the whole DYNE crew has been a real learning experience, as well as a lot of fun.
There is the Patrick shoe to drop also. We’ve also got another bar on the horizon for the World Cup, an exhibition, and hopefully the takeover of a store during the WC, although it all remains to be seen/confirmed. In the immediate term, we’ve got to get back on the pitch. We got shafted a couple times regarding our fourth season, but hopefully we can pull something out the fire so the lads can have a little runaround and get hyped for Harry Kane winning the World Cup.