James Cutting places enjoyment at the centre of Football Fun Factory global ambitions
There is an old proverb that perfectly befits the ambitions of the Football Fun Factory: Mighty oaks from little acorns grow.
The roots were put in place when James Cutting had what you would either describe as a wake-up call or a return to what he knew best after a spell away from football, with the stark realisation of where his heart truly lay.
It was on the pitches where he could impact the lives of youngsters through the sport that had meant so much since his teenage days.
Red Lodge astroturf may not be the most obvious location to launch a quest for global domination, but it was the modest surroundings that have gone on to fuel the big ambitions of ‘building football communities where children fall in love with the game’.
“What I wanted to do at the outset was just to create a football programme that was open to all – boys and girls, all ages, all abilities,” says Cutting, the CEO and founder of the Football Fun Factory.
“It doesn’t matter whether you are fortunate to have a certain level of talent or if you have never kicked a ball before and would like to try. That was the concept.”
When Cutting came up with the original idea, he was doing it from a place of in-depth knowledge.
After a spell coaching as a teenager in the United States in New York and Chicago, the then 19-year-old joined Cambridge United as a part-time coach and ended up staying at the Abbey for 10 years.
He became the youth development manager, running the regional development centres for under-sevens to under-16s, and spent more than a year as the business development manager which ended up being a deviation to his vocation.
“Like anything, sometimes when you go away from your real true passion, even if it’s a step up in career, sometimes it’s not always the right thing,” says Cutting.
“It was probably an error in terms of taking that position so I left the job and took a role completely outside of football. Then I just really missed what I’m passionate about, which is coaching children football, but more so than that, it’s coaching children football in a particular way.
“It’s making a big impact on children’s lives and their families.”
Having stepped away from football altogether for a period while working outside the sport, with the National Trust, what is now the business had its origins as a hobby.
Cutting first started coaching as a one-man band in Red Lodge back in September 2017. The premise was quite simple, providing an hour-long session for youngsters aged five to 12 to go along and have fun.
Having seen so many gifted and talented youngsters progressing through development centres and academies, Cutting was all too aware that it is only a small percentage that have that level of talent and that the focus was not always on fun.
The Football Fun Factory does not have the rigid structure of a football team, and can mean the children are free to enjoy themselves at the same time as having a ball at their feet.
The bigger holiday camps incorporate football-related inflatables, such as a blow-up pitch, dartboard and inflatable goal, that Cutting had seen separately at different organisations but thought could be brought together to “create this magical environment where children can play and have fun”.
It was two years later, in September 2019, that they began to franchise the business.
“When enough people say the same thing to you, on repeat, I think sometimes you have to start to listen to them,” he says.
“What excited me about the prospect was to create the same impact that I was creating on a really local level, but on a national level – to be able to spread the message of the Football Fun Factory far and wide.
“The thought process was ‘if I can turn it into a business for myself then there’s no reason why other people can’t do that in exactly the same way’.
“The aim was to see where it took us, and I guess the journey has surprised us a little bit in terms of how successful it’s been and how quickly we’ve got there.”
It means they now have 37 head coaches, dominating the East region and spanning out across the country.
Among the head coaches are former MK Dons striker Izale McLeod, who runs a franchise in Milton Keynes, while ex-Manchester United and Cambridge United midfielder Luke Chadwick is the company’s head of partnerships.
Across the country, they are coaching around 3,000 children on a weekly basis.
It is why that proverb is so relevant.
Cutting clearly has drive and ambition, and what is also so impressive is that it is not just words.
Go to a session and you will see the fun being had by the youngsters, and also the teaching of key virtues such as sportsmanship and respect –0 the awarding of blue cards each week to individuals recognises these traits.
It is much more about drive than arrogance when Cutting states the ambitions for the business.
“Our aim is absolutely massive. Our aim is to become the world’s leading children’s football coaching organisation,” he says.
“It’s an absolutely massive aim and we’re under no illusions of how big a task that will be. However, we really believe in what we’re doing.
“We believe that we’ve got something that is truly unique, we’ve got something that is completely different to what anybody else is offering and on top of all the different experiences that we offer, we’ve an unbelievably high level of coaching.”
There has been some international interest across Europe, but Cutting wants to make sure they grow sustainably and do the right things at the right times.
With that in mind, he had to do a ceremonial passing of the baton this spring.
It all started in Red Lodge but given the expansion of the business, Cutting has had to hand on his own area to a franchisee.
“The longer I spent out on pitches in the evenings and coaching at weekends, the less time I spent trying to give more children these experiences,” he explains.
You wonder, given that it all started with a passion for coaching, whether that will create an absence in not, metaphorically, donning the boots?
“I’m not worried at all as I have the ability to dip in and dip out as I choose,” states Cutting, pictured right.
“I’m putting myself on the right seat on the bus, if you like, making sure I’m leading the whole thing to drive it forward.
“What inspires me more than anything, and what I’m most passionate about is actually giving the experiences to more children.”
Where does that come from though? What is it that has always made Cutting so determined to give access to football to as many children as possible, to use the sport as a vehicle for development?
“I believe that through football children develop in so many ways,” he says. “Of course, they will develop their football skills but more importantly they will develop as young people.
“They will develop teamwork, sportsmanship, they will develop the ability to listen and concentrate, and all those kinds of things that will help them in school and help them in later life as well. Through football you develop as a person and the biggest thing about Football Fun Factory is all those opportunities to develop are relevant to everybody whether you have a certain level of talent or not.”
With an ever-increasing growth will come the impact, and from a standing start Football Fun Factory is going through the gears quickly in their bid for global dominance.