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Going for Broke: a tricky path from football to TV

Ex-Premier League footballer Marvin Sordell explains how he wants to break the stigma of footballers being solely focused on the game and how life experiences can translate into fresh takes in TV

‘Stories are a communal currency of humanity’ – Tahir Shah

A production company created and run entirely by ex-footballers – that’ll never work right?

Every bit of our short film Broke – created for World Mental Health Day to raise awareness of the issue in the world of professional football – was made by people who had first-hand, lived experience of the subject. In this case, that subject was professional football and telling a story of what it’s like to have a lifelong dream slip from our grasp – a reality in football that leaves thousands of young people each year suffering the mental health impact.

For 22 years my world was football and, as a child, I dreamed of becoming a professional and playing at the highest level for club and country. From the age of six, I completely dedicated my life to this linear path, blocking out any possible distractions or alternative career options or interests, to reach my goal. All I was and everything I knew centred around football: my relationships, my interests, my complete persona.

The height of my career saw me play for Bolton Wanderers and Burnley in the Premier League, for England at Under-20 & Under-21 level, and representing Team GB at the London 2012 Olympic Games. Pursing other interests was met with resistance and roadblocks, and when I eventually left football, I didn’t know what the future would hold for me, or if any of the skills I had developed would be applicable to the ‘outside’ world.

It was only after meeting my then teammate William Miller, and subsequently launching ONEIGHTY Productions together, that a new-found rebellious freedom in being and doing more caught and stayed alight within me. Broke is an amalgamation of countless football players’ experiences, whose entire identities are wrapped up in the game and who are then left feeling lost and directionless when that part of their identity is ripped away from them.

The world of television and film seemingly offers up limitless options and opportunities to explore, develop and create, but also gives me the responsibility to afford others the space to be themselves.

The footballer within me has broken away from the linear path and taken to one where being multi-faceted is celebrated and rewarded. I would like other people in the industry to understand that even if you’ve had a completely different career before coming to the world of film and TV, there are always skills that can be transferred and applied to a new profession.

Behind Broke is writer/director William Miller, who played for Tottenham Hotspur, Burton Albion and England at youth level, lead actor Moe Hashim, who was a professional footballer in Switzerland, producer Harry Campbell, who played for Blackburn Rovers, Bolton Wanderers & Burton Albion, music composer Gilly Miller, who played for Tottenham Hotspur and QPR, and myself as exec producer.

We offer a blend of differing abilities, skillsets and interests which bring the film to life; it shows both the importance & possibilities of what can happen when curiosity is afforded the space for growth. We were fortunate to also have the guiding hand of Fulwell73 who completely bought into our vision for the film.

One of the core pillars of ONEIGHTY is to place emphasis on the collaborative approach that creating any film must have – championing the voice of each person involved, allowing them to bring their personal experiences to the forefront. Teamwork is at the centre of football and we’ve taken this over to become part of everything that ONEIGHTY stands for. It’s no good asking people to tell their truth and then shunning that experience.

At ONEIGHTY, we understand that every project delivered is a destination, and every piece and role that builds the car that takes us on that journey offers value and importance. We try to make sure every person that works alongside us feels as though they are part of something, and we encourage everyone to bring forward the different experiences that have brought them to us.

In return we find that they put their heart and soul into it. Although this can’t be quantified on screen, we see it on every single set that we have, creating an environment that crew are always so keen on returning to.

We’re coming into this industry having all completed one career already. We haven’t followed the conventional route when you set up a production company, because we didn’t know what conventional was.

What we did have was a work ethic, a knack for teamwork and collaboration, and a shared desire to see on screen stories that reflected our truth. Even as newbies in this world we now operate in, we hope that we bring with us a weight of experience that will prove beneficial to the projects we’re already working on.

We have other stories we want to tell as ONEIGHTY builds momentum, stories beyond football. We’re sure our individual experiences will equip us to do that in a fresh way. Hopefully an industry that increasingly calls for new voices and experiences to broaden out the range of stories we see on screen will see that value too.


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