ameson and VERSUS are coming together to level up five-a-side football, and some of football culture’s most influential voices are lending their support.
Jermain Defoe, Freda Ayisi, Monki and Moses Duckrell are fronting the launch of a new bib – produced by Jameson and VERSUS – that will be available at select Powerleague locations, finally making five-a-side bibs something ballers will want to wear.
All four have unique experience of the game at all levels. Defoe is a Premier League and England legend who played with the control and killer instinct you expect in small-sided football. Freda is a pro baller who’s also become one of the biggest five-star-skillers on social media. Monki is an international DJ who also plays semi-pro ball for Dulwich Hamlet, while Moses is a much-loved content creator who played youth football at the highest levels.
We took them to Powerleague Shoreditch to get a first look at the new Jameson x VERSUS bibs, relive some of their favourite memories from grassroots football, and talk about why it’s so important we make this level of the game accessible to everyone.
VERSUS: What are your earliest memories of grassroots football?
Freda: When I first started playing I was about five-years-old, so quite young, and I started out by playing with my brothers – as well as our cousins – but it was when I started playing at our local park my oldest cousin thought: “right, okay…Freda is actually quite decent at this!” After that, he started training me at weekends and after school.
Moses: The tournaments from back in the day when I was younger – around 13-years-old – and you’re literally on pitch for about seven hours, playing five to six games and your body’s cold but you just don’t realise it because you’re so young. I can’t do that anymore! But those are my earliest, and probably some of my fondest grassroots memories.
Monki: I can remember playing in a tournament for an all boys’ team and this one particular game went to penalties. And it was absolutely tipping it down with rain. I stepped up to take my pen…slipped, and missed.
Jermain: Playing for my Sunday League team Senrab F.C. We used to win everything back in the day, and I mean literally everything! But even before I joined the club, there were quite a few historic England players that represented Senrab: Ledley King, Ashley Cole, John Terry, to name a few. So it was like you were joining a side that knew how to win and produce elite players.
VERSUS: Some of those memories are really distinct and that symbolises how real our connection to grassroots football is. What was it that you liked about the grassroots game?
Jermain: I look back on those days and think about the freedom we had as young players, just going out there and doing our best. And even though we won often and had some superstars across the teams, we never felt any pressure. If anything, we probably put the pressure on ourselves to perform but without even knowing it.
Freda: Not sure if everyone else will say this but, the roughness of the game! You know? The fact that everyone wanted to go out and run non-stop, win every tackle, score as many goals as possible. But also, we were all so keen to show off our skills – everyone wanted to just go for it! You might have seen a skill on TV or YouTube in the lead-up to your game at the weekend, practised it all week long and then tried doing it in front of your friends.
Moses: It was just pure joy. Getting the chance to be with your friends and having fun, that was what it was all about. Don’t get me wrong, you can be competitive and have fun, but that wasn’t always the end goal, you know? It was more about development and enjoying yourself whilst that happened. As you got older, and as your level or standard of training increased, your focus shifted slightly – depending on your circumstance – whether it was picking up the three points, implementing a game plan or something technical learnt in the run-up to the game. But grassroots should always be about finding and nurturing your love for the sport.
VERSUS: I think a lot of the positive energy you’re describing is something you can get from five-a-side football at every stage of your life. Does football still help you from a mental and emotional perspective?
Monki: Moving your body is so important when it comes to supporting mental health, it’s one of the main reasons I went back to playing football after a seven year break. I just needed the outlet, and I felt like I was missing something. I remember during lockdown, I was so grateful to have access to a space where I could kick a ball about – most of the time on my own at the local park! – and later down the line participate in games.
Moses: Playing football provides me with a sense of release from work and whatever I’m worrying about. I’m not necessarily talking about actively playing the game either when I refer to football by the way, I’m talking about: being in the changing room with your teammates, the chats you have on the sidelines, the silly in-jokes and banter you have with one another during the warm-up. All of those ‘little things’ help to create a different environment from your day-to-day life. I’ve had the best times of my life with my football mates, and sometimes that’s just from playing a game of two-touch!
Jermain: I feel like exercise in general is incredible for supporting people’s mental health, but I also love how seeing people play football brings communities together and creates a sense of happiness. Driving around London and seeing five-a-side pitches like the ones here today, or football cages, I think it’s amazing. I know there are people – no matter how old they are – going out at some point in the week using those spaces to make themselves feel better.
VERSUS: This bib release with Jameson is all about making the five-a-side game feel a bit fresher and bringing some of the fashion-forward energy we’ve seen at the highest levels of the game back to grassroots. What are your first impressions?
Monki: These bibs don’t even really feel like the bibs you get in football. They’re really light! And the material is a lot nicer – they sort of feel like an additional layer, if that makes sense? They don’t feel like they’d restrict your movement when playing, which can be so annoying about bibs in training.
Moses: These bibs make people want to be the ‘bib team’, you know what I mean! I always say, ‘you look good, you feel good’ and this bib does that for me. That’s a huge part of some people’s matchday routines as well – how they look on the day.
Jermain: I really rate them. The pattern on the ‘Emerald’ one is really nice and I like the hi-vis because it does remind me of the bibs I’d use in training…only better!
VERSUS: The reverse of the bib carries the phrase ‘Everyone’s a Baller’ because we really believe the grassroots game should be a space where everyone is welcome. How important is the idea of inclusivity in football to you?
Freda: I think it’s really important! It’s a space where people of all ages make friends and build new connections. For me personally, I’ve got friends who I would never have met if it wasn’t for football. Our worlds would never have collided if we didn’t play the same sport. One of the great things about meeting new people is, you get to learn about different cultures and people’s backgrounds. I was really lucky growing up because boys and girls played football together. Nobody was made to feel like they should be left out because of their gender or age.
Monki: For me, as a woman that’s played football her whole life, the foundation of the game has changed so much in the last 15 years. To be able to walk into a PowerLeague in Shoreditch, or turn the TV on and see women playing football at stadiums like Wembley or the Emirates, it’s actually mind blowing because it always felt like there wasn’t ever any space for us. To see inclusivity being normalised, is incredible.
Moses: It’s huge and I also think the idea of compassion should extend up to the pro game. The media needs to stop demonising players. Comments that are often uncalled for, whether based on player performances or not, are unwarranted. And the people who think they’re ‘brave’ for making those comments, they forget words play on people’s minds. I’ve no doubt some players find unwanted – almost hateful – criticism mentally crushing. It needs to stop.
Jermain: Look, when I was growing up, I could never imagine seeing 80,000 people at Wembley watching the women’s game. And don’t get me wrong, when I was younger I had girl mates who played football – and they were really good, too – but they also never imagined themselves playing at Wembley, but I did imagine that for myself because I’d seen men play football there before. The way the women’s game has developed in the last few years, it’s been exponential but that doesn’t mean we can’t push for more. Making everyone feel part of football is the first step towards that.
VERSUS: Jermain, I feel like we can’t bring you to Powerleague and not ask you about who your ultimate five-a-side team would be from your career…
Jermain: Phwoar. Right, I’ve played with some top goalkeepers during my time but I’d have to choose David James. During his peak, what an athlete. He could have been an NFL player, man. Crazy athleticism. I’ll go with two defenders: Ledley King and Rio Ferdinand, both legends. I’d then have Luca Modric and Wayne Rooney. Nobody’s beating that team!
The Jameson x VERSUS five-a-side bibs will be available at select Powerleague locations from June 5.