A man on the ball

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WORLD Freestyle Champion. WASA Champion. Guinness World Record holder. Not a bad resume. Although one man from Longridge can boast accomplishing all three.

But they are just the tip of iceberg for John Farnworth. The 22 year-old has been practicing freestyle football for more than seven years and is now a professional freestyler, regarded as one of the best in the world.

On top of competition victories, Farnworth has also appeared at numerous football matches and publicity events for the likes of Nike and FIFA, and has even performed privately for the likes of Ruud Van Nistelrooy and Salomon Kalou!

''I guess I always wanted to do something active in my life but whatever I did I would want to be the best in the world at it. I wanted to do something a little bit different, I would never really follow the crowd,'' Farnworth said.

Farnworth had always been a football fanatic and was a part of the Preston North End youth teams. But his interest in freestyle didn't emerge until he was 14 years old when he read Simon Clifford's 'Learn to Play Brazilian' and witnessed freestyle first hand in the UK.

Inspired

Farnworth said: ''I started to do freestyle after seeing the Nike Freestyle competition that ran throughout the UK. It was seeing freestyler Mr Woo who really inspired me because what I saw him do with a ball was amazing, it actually shocked me!

''From that day on my aim was to be better than Mr Woo and become a professional freestyler!''

But in order to pursue his freestyle career, Farnworth would have to sacrifice his ambitions of becoming a professional footballer. Reflecting on the decision, Farnworth believes he made the right choice in leaving North End to join one of the Simon Clifford Brazilian Soccer schools in Manchester.

''I don't regret stopping playing football because it was always freestyle that interested me most. I saw it as more of a challenge and it was a way that I could express my personality with a ball,'' Farnworth said.

He added: ''I started at the school at 14-15 years old and I was just enjoying going there and learning different moves with the ball. The environment was the best for learning and through this I got to know some great people. A few years later freestyle became my life and so it is today!''

Now Farnworth not only travels the world performing, but has also begun to coach freestyle and has released his own football with Mitre. But it could have been a different story had it not been for a meeting with his idol Mr Woo in 2004 and an invitation to the WASA competition, which Farnworth won.

Farnworth said: ''It was really important to win the competition as it really put me on the freestyle map. People started to take note of me and realise I would be up and coming!''

Two years later, he would go one better. Representing England at the Masters of the Game World Freestyle Championships, Farnworth overcame the world's best to become World Champion, defeating his idol Mr Woo in the process.

''It was an amazing feeling as I trained so hard for the title and it was such a prestigious award. I don't think Mr Woo was best pleased at the time but a few months later I did a show with him and he said well done and that he was glad he had inspired me,'' Farnworth said.

Despite his success, Farnworth has no plans to enter any competitions in the near future, although he has appeared at many as a judge.

''I've no competitions upcoming at the moment but you never know as they can come around pretty fast! I have judged a few competitions in Europe which has been nice and a totally different experience,'' said Farnworth.

With the numerous competitions and shows, Farnworth has performed all over the world in front of thousands but admits his favourite has come on home soil. Although he confesses that his hectic timetable can sometimes make it difficult to find time for other areas of life.

''It's hard to choose but the best venue I've performed at is the London Palladium, the atmosphere was electric!'' said Farnworth.

Farnworth added: ''My favourite part of the world I have travelled to is Far East Asia, where I have visited countries such as Thailand, Hong Kong, Malaysia and Singapore. I like this part of the world because it is so different and the people have such respect for what I do.

''Sometimes finding time for other things is difficult but its freestyle that I live for so everyday seems to be a challenge! There are days when you feel like you don't want to perform and train but I have to realise it's such a great thing to be able to do.''

Farnworth's dedication is reflected in a training regime that sees the 22 year-old spend 40 hours a week practising and perfecting the various tricks and routines. But his efforts haven't gone unnoticed, particularly when he was invited by Guinness World Records to attempt to set a new record on television.

''I was approached by Guinness World Records about two years ago and they wanted me to have a go at the record for the most 'around the worlds' in a minute. I've managed to beat it three times now. It's an amazing feeling,'' Farnworth said.

Despite becoming one of the leading freestyle figures in the world, Farnworth himself still looks up to other performing as he pushes his own level of performance.

''I take inspiration from people like Mr Woo and Rob Walters who where the first freestyle performers. But one of my biggest inspirations would be the greatest juggler and performer of all time, Francis Brunn. He really was on another level and I would like to achieve what he achieved as a performer,'' Farnworth said.

Farnworth added: ''I want to be the best and make a name for myself as a performer, I hope to push the boundaries and give the world something to remember.''

And perhaps that's why, for John Farnworth, two major championship titles and a world record really is the tip of the iceberg, as he hopes to build on a short but already very successful career.