Mike Delaney – Football Choreographer

Today it is our privilege to bring you an interview with Mike Delaney who has over 20 years’ experience as a Football Choreographer for TV Stills and Film. We discuss Mike’s role on advert/film sets, his broad experience across multiple avenues in the Football industry, how he balances running multiple businesses, plus much more…

Can you tell us about your profession as a Football film/advert choreographer?

I worked on my first football commercial in 1996. I was hired around this time as a football body double or skills player. In 2002 I worked on a project for Nike ‘the Secret Tournament’. Eventually Nike and later Adidas asked if I would choreograph their ads. I have worked mostly with Adidas but also other brands like Pepsi, Guinness, Mercedes among others. My role is to liaise with the player or players on set and the director to ensure that the action looks authentic.

What are some of the most notable films, adverts, performances etc… that you’ve worked on as a choreographer?

I loved working in Kenya. That one was for Guinness and there were no star players, but it was a great experience. The first big one that I choreographed for Adidas was in 2005 in Barcelona and that was also a great shoot. The final Ad was well received. It was the ‘Plus 10’ campaign.

How did you get into freestyle football at a time where the sport was basically unknown? What are your personal highlights from all the performances you did?

I just loved kicking about and trying new tricks or trying to beat my kick up score. I had an unofficial world record for the most kick ups in a minute which was 238. I say unofficial because I had correspondence with Guinness who confirmed that this would set a record and I just needed it verified which I never did. The score has since been improved and I’m not sure I could beat it now. I managed to develop a freestyle routine and for a time I had a good reputation in this up and coming sport. I worked alongside Mr Woo for a while who was regarded as a legend of freestyle. My biggest job was performing at half time for AC Milan v Juventus with 80,000 fans there. I wish I had it on film.

Are there any people, books, or experiences that you would be willing to share with us, that have really shaped your mentality?

My Dad loved football. He taught me not to look down on anyone but also not to be in awe of others. Respect people for their achievements but not hold them in such high esteem that you are unworthy to be in their presence. I think this has helped me in my role. I am happy talking to anyone and never felt starstruck even with the greats like Messi and Ronaldo. 

I believe that my range of experiences within football have helped my skill set as choreographer. I was a footballer, a freestyler and a coach. So I understand high level skills and I know how to get the best out of others from a coaching perspective.

What advice would you give to someone who is trying to take their passion and turn it into a successful business/career?

Choose something that you really love. If you want to run it as a business, get advice from someone who knows business. I have never considered myself to be a great businessman. My way of learning has been trial and error. I don’t love making money. I love interesting work. My Dad used to have a saying ‘money is not my god’.

Can you tell us about representing the England National Team at Futsal?

My playing days in terms of a serious level had ended quite early really- in my mid-twenties. I had come out of the professional side of things and was not impressed with non-league football particularly. I went on a coaching course to teach Futsal when I was about 30. The person leading the course told me that I should attend the next lot of trials for the England Futsal team at Lilleshall. I wasn’t intending on going but ended up trialling there. I got through the different rounds and eventually received a letter to say that they would like me in the squad. I asked my Dad’s permission as I am from a big Irish family. He said I should see it as an honour to be asked. I played in some friendly matches and some World Cup qualifiers in Georgia. It was very fast paced, and England were trying to catch up with many countries who had embraced Futsal for years. I was having bad back trouble and visited a specialist in Austria. He told me to stop playing football at a serious level, so I was forced to quit. I wish I had played the game a bit more growing up as it did suit my way of playing. My PE teacher once said to me at School ‘Michael Delaney- if 5 aside football was a sport, you would be an International’. I visited the school one time and he was still there. I reminded him of what he had said and that I was asked to play for the England side.

Can you tell us about your role as Managing Director of both ‘Skills Academy’ and ‘Select Sports Artists’? What’s your approach to balancing your time across several different businesses?

I loved coaching football to kids and I set up the Skills Academy in 1998. It was only small with a couple of schools and a few clubs. I then had a spell playing in Germany and Switzerland and my uncle Kev took care of it while I was abroad. When I returned home, I decided to put a lot of effort into this business and I had good links to all the top football Freestylers who were very generous with coming along and performing for the kids. The company grew and I employed more coaches and staff to run things well. We won a big contract some years ago over the local professional clubs Crystal Palace and Charlton and we are still going despite all the difficulty of the pandemic. Our Easter camps are fully booked and we are looking for more coaches as clubs start to return.  I am still very involved in the Skills Academy and I still love seeing the children coming along and enjoying their time with us. Our coaches now also deliver PE in Schools and we have our own PE packs which we work from. We need more of these contracts with schools to keep the talented coaches we have on board and have spent time training.

As for Select Sports Artists, I think this has been running around 10 years now. We provide body doubles, freestylers and all kinds of sports people for TV shoots, photo shoots, film and live events. We have worked on some great projects over the years and Adidas in particular always come to us whenever they have a need for footballers and sometimes other sportsmen and women for their shoots.

I have very good committed staff working for me in these companies and I couldn’t do it without them. I am blessed to have them, and I want the businesses to do well so that I can reward them fully for the efforts they put in. I oversee both companies.

What are you plans and goals for the future?

I want my staff to be happy in their work and to be paid well. This means continuing to grow these businesses and there are various ways of doing this. It is not always easy balancing work and family life. My wife and I have three beautiful young children and I want to have lots of time with them while they are growing up. Lockdown has meant I see them a lot but equally, it hasn’t been easy with not being able to go anywhere. We are still very blessed with what we do have.

I am a committed Catholic and I take my faith seriously. I believe that we are all here for a purpose and I am always asking in prayer to do what God wants me to do, rather than what I want. So even though I have businesses and I care about my work, it is really more that I want to provide for my family but also for my staff and to do something worthwhile in the community. Something which God wants me to do. For instance, there may be times when I have to cover sessions with coaches off ill. I may be reluctant at first because of how much office based work I need to do but when I am there, I sense that I am there to help a particular child who may be feeling down and need encouraging that day. These seemingly small things are really the most important things. Mother Teresa once said “We can do no great things. Only small things with great love.”

I believe that the things we do are important but ultimately my relationship with God is the first priority as everything else falls into place from this. Carlo Acutis who died as a young man of around 15 years of age after living a very devout life and is now on the way to being recognised as a Saint in the Catholic Church had a saying which inspires me: “to be close to Jesus, that is my life plan.”

Instagram: @mikedelaneyfc

Interviewer: @tudge_ (Instagram)

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