Kevin Keegan launches football training systems
- 26 April 2013
- From the section Business
When a young Kevin Keegan was honing the skills that would make him a football superstar in the 1970s and 1980s, he spent hours kicking and heading a ball against a wall, and trapping and controlling the rebounding football.
Now he has come up with the idea of making a portable, electronic, version of his youthful practice wall.
But this is one that can be transported in a flight case and features a number of different electronically monitored games.
Using the Sokka unit basically involves kicking a ball against a flat playing surface containing a number of electronic sensors that monitor accuracy and technique.
It can be set for a number of different games - with names such as Block It, Pass and Receive, and On the Spot - designed to hone different aspects of a player's skills.
A price tag of £99,000 will get you three portable units - featuring six playing surfaces, as well as a Mercedes van and other necessary kit to transport and set up the equipment for use at your playing location.
Making coaching fun
And, as the former Liverpool, Hamburg, Southampton, Newcastle United and England player reveals, the unit has been a long time in the development pipeline.
"After I retired I went to New Zealand in 1985 and went to do a coaching session as a guest," he says.
"I saw kids doing things in a really different and enjoyable way, not just, 'Go there, do this'. I like football to be enjoyable too.
"So this is where we are 35 years after then - with what we believe is doable. It has just taken us time to get it all spot on.
"After initially thinking we would just have static units, for the past year we have been trying to make them really transportable."
That has been achieved by manufacturing a double-sided playing surface which folds neatly into a standard aircraft flight case, and can be wheeled away after use.
Production is based in Altrincham, Greater Manchester, and Keegan has been joined by two other shareholders in the venture. But he stresses it is his idea and his company.
The former England captain also devised the theme of the Soccer Circus business, in conjunction with Scottish entrepreneur Peter Barr and engineer Clive Mockford.
The Soccer Circus team spent more than £5m in the research, development and delivery of the concept, which is centred on a series of football skill games.
The first site opened in Glasgow in 2006 and has since been joined by two other outlets; at the Centre Parcs complex near Penrith, Cumbria, and one in Dubai in the United Arab Emirates.
The former star, who started his career at Scunthorpe, is also a popular after-dinner speaker on the sporting and business circuits.
The 62-year-old was arguably the first successfully media-savvy footballer, as famous for his Brut adverts with Henry Cooper, pop singles, and curly perm haircut as he was for his successful playing career.
He won the three League titles, two Uefa Cups, the FA Cup, and the European Cup with Liverpool, before becoming one of the first players of the 1970s to move overseas where he won the German Bundesliga with Hamburg..
"I have never been scared to do something new - I did the adverts, I did the record, I moved abroad, I have always been one of those people who say, 'Why not?' rather than 'Why?'" he says.
"I am very lucky in that I enjoy meeting people, it is a great help in life, not just business.
"People come and ask for a picture and I am always happy to do that, but you can tell the ones who are also really interested in what we are doing [with Sokka]," he says.
He says that the beauty of his design is that, as well as being portable, it can also be installed as an interactive sporting attraction in a club's museum or shop.
"Interactive stuff is what kids want now, not to see an old football shirt of Kevin Keegan's," he says.
"If you visit a football museum and there is a club legend's score on Sokka that you might be able to beat, then that is something different, more exciting," he says, adding that the appearance of the units can be tailored to customers' needs.
And, although the concept has only recently launched, he says there has already been healthy interest both from within the UK and in other parts of the world.