He plays it forward with a beautiful sweeping motion. There’s a slight dip on the end of it before a switch in play. It moves to its target who then dribbles exquisitely. The rest of the evening sees a crisp finish and some liquid passing.
Sovereign FC are halfway through their Wednesday night dinner – a bombastic banquet of fried potato, succulent beef, cauldrons of coke and chocolate fudge cake for dessert.
As football diets go, it’s certainly unconventional.
Based in Wolverhampton, Sovereign FC – or the ‘Sov’ as they are affectionately known – have an excuse for such gluttony.
This is their final meal. Not before the electric chair, but the bamboo one.
They’re going green. Pepsi is to be replaced by protein shakes. Chicken with chickpeas. Tofu instead of toffee.
At their pinnacle, the Sov tore up leagues across Cannock and Bilston with reckless abandon. Their star striker, Jon Giddings, netted so prolifically he was almost tipped for the full-time game, before the lure of banking proved too great.
Equally, the defensive midfielder Ash Wiley gave nothing away, leading to his nickname ‘the Nun’.
Add to the mix the all-round tenacity of Liam Dixon, the punch of Matt Palmer, the gallops of Kriss Costins** and the injuries of Frazer Evans and you had a recipe for success.
Sadly, the lads discovered the recipe for burgers.
Since their literal salad days, the Sov have enjoyed more success in Subway than they have in soccer.
The team combined now weigh a metric ton. Their weekly food intake could keep a small African settlement well-stocked for a century. They became, in 2018, the first football team to see Jacamo provide their home and away kits.
“It started off with curry and a movie at Costins’,” says Wiley, a relative whippet at 13 stone 11. “Then Jon would have Maoms by his sofa and things spiralled out of control. I’d turn down meals with my girlfriend because I had Jelly Babies for tea…although, to be honest, that wasn’t the only reason.”
However, Wiley’s weight gain stems from keeping the bad thoughts out, as opposed to letting the good ones in.
“I struggle to sleep at my missus’ house. It’s not very comfortable being kept in the broom cupboard,” he admits. “I have been haunted by the death of a loved one – Kirst’s rabbit, Callum – so to sleep I started medicating…I have four cans of lager a night now. Some people read a book, I down a Carling!”
With the Sov adopting a new policy on pudge, some players had to adapt to the new regime. “I was working as a sports coach, but I was staying too slim. I simply had to keep my weight up,” recalls Liam Dixon.
“In the end, I had to jack it in. It was affecting my performances and the Sov said I may not be in the starting line-up if I wasn’t match-fat. In the end, I took a job selling bathrooms. It used to be every time I scored a goal I’d treat myself to a digestive. Now every time I flog a tap, I scoff a Twix.”
Recent photos of Dixon donning a fuller shirt hint that he has achieved his goal weight.
Similarly, Sam Lambeth weighed as little as 5KG as recently as 2018. Now a firm 15 stone, he’s worked regularly with a dietician to increase the weight gain. “I did a reverse Joker,” he reveals. “While Joaquin Phoenix lost the weight in three months, I gained it. I basically ate his old portions. He wasn’t happy about it but he’s got the Oscar, I’ve got the insulin.”
However, the Sov’s form began to buckle quicker than their beds. Players would be out of breath just undoing their tracksuit tops. Recovery time lasted a month. Half-time orange slices were of the Terry’s chocolate variety.
Now it’s time for a change.
In the past month, the Sov have been determined to return to their slimmer, successful days. Neil Jackson has adopted a plant-based diet. “Before, that just meant I ate a fry-up at the garden centre!” he beams. “But now I’m all about the plants. Have you seen that documentary, What the Health? Oh, you have? Is it any good? I only watched one scene. But it changed my life.”
Jon Giddings has already seen his weight plummet. “The only reason I’m keeping this beard is to cover up the skin folds,” he says between gorging on parsley.
Similarly, Chris Caddick has banned all chocolate and sweets from the kitchen. “It’s ruined my sex life but my blood pressures down,” he sighed.
Callum Pascoe, a recent signing from Plymouth Grouters, was unavailable for comment after succumbing to heat stroke after a particularly vigorous session of hot yoga.
Will 2020 see the return of a slimmer Sov? “I hope so,” says Frazer Evans. “My arse has never looked so good.”
** – Certain names have been changed to protect the person’s true identity