Being a gifted sportsperson is one thing, forging a career in it is another. Tom Nolan (you might know him as TNFreestyle), has combined both and done so against the odds.
It has been an incredible turnaround for Nolan. In 2018, the 21-year-old was invited to Manchester United’s pre-season tour in Los Angeles and given the opportunity to train with first-team players.
Yet only a few years prior the Englishman had to sell Paul Pogba’s match-worn boots, given to him by the French superstar himself, to help him fund a career he emphasises ‘didn’t exist a few years ago’.
His videos on social media rack up millions of views and have become an inspiration for young freestylers across the world.
His brilliance as a football prodigy had earned him a mini-celebrity status in his town. The young athlete created a unique playing style which incorporated freestyle skills in a regular game, much to the chagrin of his opponents.
“When I was in high school it got to a point where I was practising skills, so many people wouldn’t even try to tackle me in matches because they thought I’d do a skill and embarrass them,” Nolan tells Sport360.
“The skills just came naturally; I could pick them up minutes after seeing something for the first time either in person or on a video,” he added.
Despite his gifts on the football pitch, Nolan leaned closer to the freestyle world and dedicated his time to training and learning different tricks and skills.
“I hit a point where I just stopped enjoying playing for a team, but I didn’t want to stop playing football altogether,” he explains.
“I just gravitated towards freestyle and enjoyed learning new tricks to show to my mates at school. I stopped playing for a team, but by combining football and freestyle, I was practising more than ever and was probably better than ever.”
At the age of 15, a video of him doing a freestyle trick went viral on social media and reinforced his decision desire to take freestyle football up professionally.
While no one could deny his talent, his family and friends didn’t exactly approve of his decision. They didn’t think it was a practical career path, given the sport hadn’t achieved the exponential popularity it enjoys today.
“It would be fair to say that people I grew up with would say I was good, but still thought I had no chance in turning it into my career. My family always wanted me to go to college and university to give myself the best chance in life so understandably when I said I didn’t want to do either they weren’t too keen on the idea as any parent would.”
Nolan chose the road less travelled and even admitted he thought that the chances of him succeeding were one in a million, but he persevered and managed to turn his dream into reality. He’s not looked back since.
It’s unlikely we’ll see Nolan compete at the Olympics, but he expresses a strong desire to see this magical sport given the platform it deserves.
Nolan echoes fellow freestyler Sean Garnier’s opinion that freestyle needs to be an independent sport in order to capture attention from the Olympics.
While COVID-19 has brought life to a standstill all over the world, Nolan is optimistic about the future and is ready to grab the opportunities which are waiting for him once these trying times pass.