Sports Gazette

by sports journalism students at St Mary's University, London

“I used to do kick-ups for fun but now it’s my identity”: Meet the new FIFA 18 Freestyler

Posted on 6 December 2017 by Iman Alaouie

Jamie MacDonald is the face of the new FIFA 18 kit, found in 6000 GameStop stores worldwide. He can do 11,000 kick ups in 90 minutes and his viral skills videos have millions of views on social media. In this interview with Sports Gazette, he opens up about how freestyling changed his life.

Jamie MacDonald is the epitome of ‘do what you love and you’ll never work a day in your life’. Born in Belfast, he started freestyling over a decade ago and has not looked back since. Like others before him, the route to his dream job began with his love for football.

“I started playing football first at my local club Truro City until I was about 17, but the freestyle took over as I started getting jobs through it,” he said.

MacDonald quickly realised he had to choose between his two passions, as the combination of football and freestyle was making his legs slower. 

“It’s a funny one because when you play over 90 minutes, your muscle fibres just completely change, similar to long distance running.

“And football wasn’t giving me much in terms of achievement because of where I live in Cornwall, so I just made the decision that I was going to stick to freestyle since I enjoyed it more,” he explained.  

For MacDonald, the drive and ambition needed to succeed as a professional footballer were put into his freestyle from a young age.

“Some of the guys at my estate would always have these little keepy-uppy competitions.

“I would train roughly two hours a day, doing simple kick-ups and then I’d watch tricks and skills on Youtube. It seems a bit silly now but it all started because I wanted to be the best,” he recalled with a laugh.

What might have started out as fun and games eventually turned into a form of self-expression.

“It’s become my identity. Everyone is like ‘oh he’s the guy with the football’ and they think I’m doing well for myself, but that wasn’t always the case.

“As a kid, I was known as the troublemaker and I just knew my teachers always thought I’d amount to nothing. I guess you could say that I stand up and do the freestyle against the labels that were put against me as a kid,” he said.

The experienced freestyler has come a long way from doing free shows at school and low-paid shows at under-18s nightclubs. Now he gets hired for all kinds of events, and sometimes as a body-double for footballers.

Recently, he was on Total Tekkers teaching Countdown’s Rachel Riley how to freestyle for, and he did 30 hours in a box at London Bridge for Yahoo.

Jamie MacDonald, wearing the new FIFA 18 kit, pictured with Rachel Riley on on the set of JOE’s Total Tekkkers.

Wherever a company or client feel freestyle is of value to them, MacDonald is already there with a ball at his feet, ready to wow the crowd with his tricks and skills. At 25 years old, he has already achieved all his life goals – even the oddly specific ones.

“I always dreamed of appearing on a Saturday night live show, specifically on ITV. It finally happened in 2012 on the show Let’s Get Gold! which is basically like Britain’s Got Talent but for sport.

“The competition aired on a Saturday at 7pm on ITV as a pre-buildup game at the Olympics, and there were freestylers, gymnasts doing headstands on another guy’s head and other random acts like that,” he explained.

A freestyler’s worst nightmare is dropping the ball and when asked if he still gets nervous performing today, MacDonald replied without hesitation. “Yep,” he laughs. “All the time. But I almost prefer the nerves if I’m honest, because the buzz makes you do your best.

“I’ll be proper nervous for about 10-15 seconds but then once you’re in the flow of things, the nerves actually help you a lot because you are so much more focused on every single part of the movement,” he continued.

“It also depends on the scale of the job, if I know I’m going out to one or four million people I don’t want the embarrassment of potentially dropping the ball, but I usually handle it well.”

MacDonald reached another important milestone when he successfully performed the “Trip Around the World”, a difficult trick that requires one revolution with the football and triple three times before the ball hits the floor.

However, his favourite trick is still the one he invented back in 2015, known as the ‘J-Mac move’. It is a ‘trip around the world’ combined with a ducky move to the head, 360-degree spin. The video of MacDonald performing it went viral after picking up 52 million views across all social media. 

“It was a world first at the time, and it’s probably the best trick I’ve ever done. Still nobody has done it but off the top of my head I can probably name four or five people that can do it now but haven’t tried.”

The 25-year-old does not do street football, as he prefers to spend his time developing his talent. For him, freestyling is not about pleasing or impressing anyone, which is why he is inspired by no one in terms of style.  

He said: “If you push the tricks you enjoy, you become unique in your own style. If I didn’t push and just did it by the books like everyone else, I wouldn’t have invented the viral move.”

Freestylers often dream of doing tricks with their favourite footballers, but for MacDonald it would not tick as many boxes as people think it would. His choice is more unorthodox.

“The typical answer would probably be Ronaldo but to be perfectly honest, I don’t really care about footballers,” he said, with a smile in his voice.

“I’m obsessed with people that are just completely irrelevant to freestyle, like Tim Ferriss and Tony Robbins. They are public speakers and marketing geniuses but most people are not going to know who they are.

“Ferriss is like a life hacker, where he teaches you how to make problems not become problems and reorganize things to you have more structure to your day. Look him up afterwards!”   

Inspired by the two motivational speakers, MacDonald’s next big career move has less to do with views and financial success, and more to do with a need to go back to where it all began.

“Over the next few months I want to go to schools for free, just to see if I can influence the kids in any way,” he said.

“The other work will still come through since it’s my job but in terms of fulfilment, it comes down to my childhood. The way I see it is potentially there’s a kid in my shoes who’s being labelled, or they think they can’t do something because somebody says they can’t.

“I want to do a show, get some of them up and inspire the kids by showing if I can do it, they can do it too.”

Feature image credit: Jamie MacDonald