Ewan Flynn grew up in North London and grew up wanting to be a professional footballer. He soon realised that wasn’t going to happen but because he loved the game he kept playing organised football with his friends, ending up playing with his team Wizards in the Edmonton and District Sunday League, the oldest Sunday League in England and possibly the world! Ewan put his playing experiences into his first book, ‘We are Sunday League’.
Sunday League is a million miles away from professional football although if you go back far enough, most of the professional clubs in England were amateur clubs before they developed in today’s huge multi-national companies. There is of course a huge difference between the Sunday League and the Premiership – the prestige, the kit, the resources – but fundamentally its eleven men or women playing football by the same rules. What you see on Match of the Day is reflected in Sunday League but people to play Sunday League because they love it and have a real passion.
There’s a real commitment needed to play amateur sport – someone’s got to volunteer to run the team, wash the kit and do all the admin – but being part of a team gives you something very special, a sense of community which is something not often found easily in modern life. Doing things with other people isn’t necessarily that easy and a lot of pursuits are more solitary so when you achieve something with other people it’s a brilliant feeling. Team sport gives you that sense of ‘we won together’. You lose together as well sometimes but winning together is a brilliant feeling.
Scoring a goal for instance. You do all the work then you enjoy it with your teammates. You’ve got people around you to enjoy the moment with you, the same way when you’re watching football in a crowd. There are maybe 40,000 people, all wanting the same thing and then getting it. At the World Cup in Russia, there were people from Mexico, Peru, Columbia, Japan, Senegal, wherever, together celebrating. You get wrapped up in other countries stories and swept along and it’s an amazing gathering point. You belong to something quite quickly and easily by virtue of joining in with a song and showing support to a team. There’s not too many ways of doing that.
The highs are balanced with the lows – injuries, losses, penalty misses. You see teams that are quite dysfunctional trying to play together but not really getting on. That’s where resilience comes in, being able to dig deep. When a manager’s really embattled, results aren’t going well, the crowd is on their back and they are so immersed with everyone’s negative views but are resilient enough to keep going to try to turn it round and not just walk away. It must be so hard, being judged by people who don’t know what’s going on. You’ve got a set of players, and if the best ones are injured or have personal issues it affects the performance of the team.
Players are expected to turn up and perform whatever but you don’t factor in when they are coming back from injury, the courage it takes to get back on the pitch. When you’re an athlete your body is your tool and a big injury might psychologically rock you. Fans don’t think about that, we just think ‘get on with it’ but how much money you earn doesn’t make you stronger necessarily. There is camaraderie and fraternity within squads but professional footballers are in competition with each other. The manager picks his best team but there are players waiting for their opportunity which comes because one of their teammates is injured or playing badly. How do you manage that dynamic? How do you foster team spirit and unity with the competition within?
There are some things you can transfer between sport and personal or business life, for example, determination. There can be times playing football when the other team is better than you. They’ve got better players but you just keep working hard for your own pride. That comes through in life when things haven’t quite worked out and you just keep trying and see where a bit of effort takes you. If it doesn’t work out and you don’t make a miraculous comeback win you’ve still tried your best and you can take something away from that. As a captain I remember saying to people ‘come on, you’re playing well, keep doing it, give us a bit more’ and that was something I took into life and work. If you can’t win you play to your best so you can look at yourself in the mirror the next morning.
Ewan’s book is the story of his team and the everyday highs and lows in the lives of a group of guys in their early 20’s to early 30’s. It’s a period when a lot can happen – family bereavements, marriage, having children or getting divorced, and these stories are told through the group coming together every seven days to play a game of Sunday League football in the local park.
Once he decided to write his book, Ewan went on a one-day course where the main advice was to get into the routine of writing every day and not to worry too much about having a definite structure at the outset. On completion, Ewan got a publishing deal quite quickly but the publisher effectively went bust and, at the same time, Ewan was coming out of a ten-year relationship. With all this going on, Ewan saw how important networks and contacts are when someone who’d given him a lot of help during the development of the book, put him in touch with a different publisher. The book was then published but Ewan says that even if he hadn’t got a publishing deal he still would have written the book just so he’d known he’d done it!
Having had his book published Ewan is now really a period of transition and wants to go in a different direction to focus more on his writing and the things he’s passionate about including football!
Find out more about Ewan and his book We are Sunday League at http://wearesundayleague.com/
Listen to our full podcast with Ewan here.