Following the huge success of soccer hard-man turned brooding Hollywood star Vinnie Jones, Ken Loach’s corpulent muse Eric Cantona and housewives’ favourite David Ginola, young actors are choosing Football Association approved academies attached to English professional football clubs as a novel new route to television and movie stardom. In turn the academies are using their connections with notable thespian fans to woo new talent by adding pratical drama lessons alongside the football coaching programmes.
Fourteen year old Gary Cobbles from Erith in Kent dabbled with local youth theatre only to find the big roles just weren't there. After a number of failed auditions for Skins, Misfits and Doctors (a daytime soap) he decided to dust off his soccer boots and audition for a place at Charlton Athletic’s prestigious Football Academy and Drama School (FADS).
"I chose FADS for the coaching of course,” he said. “But the soap acting module with Bradley from Eastenders really appealed. And Bradley's 'acting with big dogs and fat people' sessions have paid dividends." Cobbles was talking to The Stage after picking up a tendon injury which gave him the freedom to audition successfully for roles in a Pedigree Chum corporate weekend, and as a dog handler in an upcoming Downton Abbey special in which the household head off to the Isle of Wight to hunt badgers.
Leigh Mundesley, 18, from Birmingham was torn between West Brom's academy, which runs a stand-up course with Frank Skinner, and Manchester United's Kicking Act'ademy run by Cold Feet's Jimmy Nesbitt. Leigh admitted: "I was 13 and went with Jimmy and Man Utd in the end as I felt three to five years on the open-mike circuit before making the big time sounded like a right pain in the arse, especially when the Red Devils could promise me at least a bit part in a gritty Ken Loach drama." After five years, and following a serious cruciate ligament injury, he auditioned for and got the title role in "Joey Barton", a television biopic for Sky Arts, on the life and career of the footballer and renaissance man. Leigh plays the adolescent Barton during his days as an undergraduate classics scholar at St John's College, Cambridge.
Older players in the twilight of their careers such as Wayne Rooney, Grant Holt and Titus Bramble are amongst a host of thespian wannabees rumoured to be studying at Daniel Day-Lewis' Method Acting Camp during the off season. Former Norwich City star, Holt, whose last role was Billy Flynn in a year 10 production of Chicago, is rumoured to be in talks to play Keith Lovejoy in the Lovejoy spin-off "Keith Lovejoy" which begins filming on the Isle of Man in October. Rooney is in consideration for several lucrative motion capture sessions for a number of unnamed Disney Pixar sequels. And Titus Bramble is believed to be reading for Lucky in an off Broadway (Tooting) production of a Waiting for Godot musical.