Football is a sport like no other. Its global reach and stardom is unmatched, with professional players at the highest levels achieving fame and acclaim rarely seen in other areas of public life.
But in spite of football’s highest highs, it’s still a sport of humble beginnings and a genuine working class game. The grassroots game is quite literally the soil from which all success stories grow, whether it’s pitches, playgrounds or pavements. In most inner city communities, all you needed was a ball and your imagination could do the rest.
At home, some might not even have had a ball to kick. Rolled up socks or an empty soft drink can was all you needed for a game of kick ups in your bedroom. In 2008, we finally saw this culture on our TV screens within a format that stands the test of time: Wayne Rooney’s Street Striker.
Wayne Rooney goes down as one of the greatest strikers of the modern game. Someone who went from wonderkid to Superman and made the net Harlem Shake on command. He was a serial winner and global icon, a player who broke goalscoring records for club and country and legitimately went toe-to-toe with the greatest ballers of his era.
Despite his superstar status, the truth is he was also just a young boy from Croxteth who lived out his dream and never really left behind the place he came from. After securing the Premier League and Champions League in the same season (scoring 32 goals in the process), Sky One came calling and asked him to take this all back to where it started: the streets.
Street Striker was born and nothing was the same. The show would be TV gold and go on to create memories that will last a lifetime. Summarised as the hunt for Britain’s most skillful young footballer and hosted by the one and only Andy Ansah, the show would showcase what football was for many people in its purest form; a way to express yourself with limited resources. The beauty of it was that it starred a world class player who had those same beginnings and despite his stardom, still looked like he could fit into where he came from with no adjustment needed.
It was a cultural moment that would take football by storm. The challenges that were created in the show would be replicated in school playgrounds and estates all over the nation. The streets were being taken to the mainstream. Not the other way round.
Wayne Rooney’s Street Striker.
Top tier television. pic.twitter.com/3HgZsATH55
— VERSUS (@vsrsus) January 15, 2021
Blokecore may be a phenomenon now but you had to be there for Rooney rocking Total 90s and bootcut jeans whilst showcasing the same flair that had him disgracing defenders in the Premier League.
It’s no longer a part of everyday footballing verbiage but Andy Ansah’s “unbelievable tekkers” was the motto for many people’s childhoods. This show and moment was a classic. Simple and stripped back, but stimulating whilst stunning.
For many young players, this show gave them a chance to believe that their way of doing things could work. In a time where football was and still remains robotic and the desire for a player who’s the finished article is high sought after, Street Striker made it cool for your education to be from the streets.
Representation has and will always be a massive part of football. And whilst a Premier League footballer may feel like the furthest thing away from you, seeing a wonderkid who came from the streets play in those environments once again – and still possess the same skills he did as a kid – provided a blueprint for many.
Even in terms of participation, the show showcased how football was for everyone. Streets will remember Ashleigh Goddard winning the show, but the second series had a large contingent of young girls participating.
“We need the grassroots not only being championed, but being elevated in the process.”
It’s all of these nuggets that make me tell the world, with no hesitation, that the streets need another Street Striker. 2008 is a long time ago but all of the principles that made the show a success then still ring true 15 years later.
Football is still a game of the people and now, with social media and increased access, a real opportunity presents itself for this concept to be taken to another level entirely. The art of your background inspiring the way you play is not a forgotten one. We see ‘Concrete Catalonia’ being heralded by every South London baller. We hear of the favela being the foundation of expression for many Brazilian players. Why not let the streets have that moment again?
It could be the boy from Bondy in Mbappé showing us how Parisian pavement made him who he is. It could be someone like Osimhen showing us how you have to use your legs in Lagos. Or a global star like Bonmatí showing what it takes to ball out in Barca. Many communities around the world have players who they now watch on the world screen and see themselves in.
Street Striker was so much more than a show, it was a peak behind the curtains of the formation of superstars and how they came to be. We need those moments back. We need grassroots not only being championed, but being elevated in the process.
In an industry that sometimes only focuses on the glossy, I want to see a return to the real.
The streets needs another Street Striker. Somebody call Andy Ansah.