Football freestyler's Everest-sized challenge

John Farnworth in profile

For most of us, an ascent of Snowdon would be challenging enough without attempting it while keeping a football off the ground.

It is little surprise then that John Farnworth got a few funny looks when climbing Wales’s highest mountain with a ball at his feet recently. ‘Some people were saying, “You can’t be doing that all the way up” and my friends were like, “Yeah that is what he does”,’ he says with a grin.

As one of Europe’s leading football freestylers, that really is what he does and the 32-year-old from Longridge near Preston will be doing it on an unprecedented scale as February becomes March by attempting a trek from the town of Lukla in north-eastern Nepal up to Everest Base Camp at an altitude of 5,380m (17,650ft) – while performing keepie-ups all the way.

‘The aim is to keep the ball in the air the whole way and it’s around 55 kilometres in total the route we are taking,’ John explains. ‘Our first trekking day will be 24 February. If all goes to plan, we’ll fly back on 10 March.’

John from Lancaster Diocese has executed football skills while perched on the top of a radio mast and once completed the London Marathon with a ball at his feet. ‘That was 12 hours straight doing kick-ups,’ he remembers. Last December he set his eighth Guinness world record when trapping a football dropped from the height of 137 feet, from a crane in Widnes.

’It was really tough because of the speed of it, he says. ‘[Luis] Suárez, [Lionel] Messi and Theo Walcott have had the record, which shows how difficult it is.’

And now for Everest and a challenge undertaken to raise money for the Alzheimer’s Society. His target is a total of £50,000 and his motivation is the memory of his late grandfather, John Embley, former head teacher of St Patrick’s Catholic primary school in Preston, who suffered from vascular dementia before his death.

‘It was my granddad who got me into football and he was my inspiration, he still is,’ says John, whose football skills have earned him work as a presenter and choreographer for CBBC. ‘Just seeing him going through so many battles made me ask myself what I could do which is the most ridiculous thing ever – and I will do it.’

As a teenager John honed his football skills in the Brazilian Soccer School in Manchester set up by Simon Clifford, until recently a parishioner of Bishop Eton, Liverpool. His own home parish is Our Lady and St Michael’s in the Lancaster diocese, though he prepared for the Himalayas on mountains and fells across the northwest and north Wales.

‘I’ve done training with a weight vest on to prepare myself for that amount of endurance,’ he says. ‘We have ten days to get to base camp.’

And, as he explains, he will be doing so with a friend, two sherpas and more than one spare football. After all, a ball will only roll one way on a mountain – and it could be a long way back down if he were to miscontrol it.
‘I have thought about that,’ he laughs. ‘You don’t want that to happen but we do understand some of the drops are ridiculous. Another issue is the altitude and what the temperature will do to the ball. So we will be taking spares!’

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