Liv Cooke recognises the peculiarity of her position during lockdown. Football as mass entertainment has ceased and yet, for one of the world’s leading professional freestylers, it is debatable whether the popularity and profile of her chosen sport has ever felt so high. The platform has enabled Cooke to provide education as well as offer escapism.
“Freestyle football is a massively growing sport and right now it feels like every professional footballer is becoming a freestyler too,” says Cooke, the 2017 world champion, the UK’s first woman professional freestyler, and now a BBC presenter. “We’ve seen Paul Pogba doing around the worlds at home and many others too. It’s putting the sport in a positive light. It helped me physically and mentally and now I’m addicted to it. It changed my life and if it can help others at this time then that is a beautiful thing.”
Cooke’s way of helping is #TutorialsForIsolation, a “random idea” that has gained a vast following on social media over the past few weeks. Every day the 20-year-old from Leyland, Lancashire, posts footage of herself performing a freestyle trick on Instagram, Twitter and TikTok – all @LivCookeFS – with instructions on how to follow suit at home. It is an opportunity to learn from a four-times world record holder – Cooke’s records are for sole juggles (217 in 60 seconds), chin juggles (208 in 60 seconds), leg rolls (27 in 30 seconds) and sole passes (18 in 30 seconds) – but also, and perhaps more importantly at this time, to remain active and learn within the confines of home.
“I posted a video of me doing a trick in my kitchen and people were asking me how to do it,” Cooke explains. “So I thought this would be the perfect time to do it. People can go on a downward spiral when they’re stuck at home but this keeps you happy and fit.
“The idea is to build up from beginners’ tricks to more difficult tricks. The hardest part has been thinking of a trick and then making sure it can be done indoors, otherwise people might end up breaking everything.
“At first we scripted the tricks but that wasn’t working, it just wasn’t me, but when we started doing them off-the-cuff it allowed me to think in the moment and that was much better. We’re doing one trick a day during isolation and if we have to keep going then I’ll just have to be creative; I am a professional freestyler after all.”
Cooke had established a huge social media following before the lockdown – 4.1m followers and counting on TikTok, for example – with a role on MOTDx following on from her professional successes and commercial appearances. The reaction, therefore, has been less surprising than the public’s ability to copy the tricks.
“What has surprised me is how many people have accomplished the tricks and how quickly they’ve picked it up,” Cooke says. “It just shows how important social media is. I was aware of its importance before the isolation. I had young girls coming up to me to say I had inspired them.
“I’m a girl from a small town in Lancashire and if I can do it, so can they. But during this isolation I’ve noticed the power of social media to do something good.
“If I have the power to make a difference then now is the time to show it. I think the benefits vary. Some people may have nothing to do and having a trick to try gives them a focus for an hour or two and stops them going into a downward spiral.
“Others who are working from home may be sat in a chair all day so it gives them a break, a bit of exercise and refreshes them. It’s important to learn new skills constantly.”
Cooke’s productivity during the lockdown does not end with teaching the reverse crossover, the side-of-the-head stall and ‘the Slap’ to a mass audience. She has also signed up for the Royal Voluntary Service since the crisis began although professional work – such as her role as a global ambassador for Euro 2020 – has naturally been affected, along with preparations to play in this summer’s Soccer Aid fundraiser at Old Trafford.
“I was really looking forward to Soccer Aid, which was going to be my first proper match in six years,” says Cooke, who played for Preston’s junior sides and Blackburn’s centre of excellence before a recurring back injury diverted her career towards freestyle. “It’s a real shame that has been postponed as it raises so much money for Unicef but nothing is more important than peoples’ health so I’m glad it has been postponed. I’m not seeing that as a negative.
“NHS staff are working crazy hours. My sister-in-law Emma is working non-stop in the NHS. She’s putting her life on the line so it’s only right that we postpone these events and don’t place any more strain on the NHS. The only problem for me is that my family is in Leyland and I’m in Manchester. I really miss them but my situation doesn’t compare at all – I can still work from home and do my videos.”