Jack Whelan | Founder & Director Le Ballon FC
Hello, my name is Jack Whelan. I am the founder of Le Ballon Football League – LBFL for short – and the director of the eponymous agency, Le Ballon. It seems strange to talk about an entity that has been so dependent on the help, support and enthusiasm of others, while trying to focus on me, but COPA90 have given me a rooftop, so I’ll be damned if I don’t shout from it! My apologies in advances for any megalomania, rose-tinted hindsight, delusions of grandeur or general Neymar-ing that may follow. Le Ballon is hugely important to me and means a lot, I am very grateful for those that believed in me from the very start. You know who you are.
Le Ballon is a football collective based in Paris that, like all good ideas, was first imagined in a pub. Or rather, as a pub. In 2014, following the demise of legendary nightspot L\INCONNU and the desire for a decent place in Paris to watch football, Le Ballon bar was created by us football-loving locals. A place with tongue-in-cheek décor but with football at its very heart, the idea was to provide a home for football fans and non-football fans alike. The success of this plan was guaranteed thanks to a successful launch party with legendary fashion / concept store, Colette. Following a fantastic World Cup period where the beer flowed, friends were made and good fun was had by all, Le Ballon started to attract the interest of some major companies that needed – whether they realised it or not – strategic, marketing and brand guidance. It was then, after a few pints, Le Ballon as an agency was born with the intention of guiding and sculpting the beautiful game in anticipation of EURO 2016 in their native France.
After a promising start and far too many hours stood in, or sat in a pub, we set about doing what all good pubs must do – play pub football. Thus, Le Ballon Football League (LBFL) was born. The league created in our own image, focussing on the things that inspired and excited us about the game of football while leaving the spectacular on-pitch antics to the likes of Zlatan (who was plying his trade in Paris when we got the proverbial ball rolling). That is to say, we knew we weren’t very good at football, but we had made loads of supremely talented friends at the bar! What we were able to create went around the word and spawned copycat teams and leagues all over the place – a legacy of which we are extremely proud and happy. Over a hundred of Paris’ great and good from the world of design, fashion, television, nightlife and beyond were united to create the world’s first totally bespoke creative football league. Eight teams were imagined with logos penned by the world’s finest artists and graphic designers, kits sketched by those that design and create for the highest of high fashion houses and labels. A level of execution that is rarely seen even in the professional game was the objective, and I think we nailed it. The idea was to sell dreams to the people of Paris and, through organic communication and high-quality narrative, the world. The dream you had as a 10-year-old was possible, and LBFL was it. We have hosted matches at Clairefontaine (the home of French football), in the fountains at the historic contemporary art museum, Palais de Tokyo, the legendary Stade Bauer (home of Red Star FC), on the stage of the incomparable Cigale Theatre and more. The team went on tour and played on a rooftop in Berlin on the day of the Champions’ League Final, on the waterfront in New York City, in front of the Duomo in Milan and in the heart of downtown Tokyo. Three seasons of re-inventing the amateur game and showing what is possible have taken place and we wait with impatience for Season 4.
Once the league was established, and after a few years of surprisingly good football, fashion and sporting consultancy were under our belts, we really wanted to put our money where our mouths were and show people just how glorious the beautiful game could be. We never strived to make football ‘cool,’ as we believe it always has been. The intention was to show people football’s innate coolness. In order to do this, and to celebrate independent, creative football from around the world, we created La Galerie du Ballon: a month-long pop-up art gallery, shop and customisation lab that took place in the Marais in Paris during EURO 2016. It was the first, and is still the only gallery of its kind anywhere in the world. It combined commissioned artworks from the likes of AMIT, Jean André, Steven Harrington, Kevin Lyons and many more, a retail section featuring independent, football-inspired fashion labels from the four corners of the globe, a library / bookstore showcasing indie-publishing in as many languages and from as many cultures as could be found, and la pièce de resistance, a jersey-customisation laboratory in the basement. Over 200 patches and heat transfers were made in collaboration with artists and indie-football brands from around the world could be applied to 8 blank shirts designed by Le Ballon and some of their favourite football shirt designers. For thirty days, genuine creative football had a home. This was not a hashtag, or a trend, but genuine love for the quirky, wholesome and honest side of independent ‘football culture.’ Over 400 custom shirts were printed in 30 days, and 15 pop-up events were hosted within the pop-up space. From global sportswear brand leaders, to artists’ vernissages and workshops, the Galerie du Ballon became the epicentre for all and sundry during the competition. What’s more, if all that culture had made one thirsty, a second pop-up Le Ballon watering-hole was created for the month some 200m down the road from the Galerie.
What I have experienced as an Englishman abroad, is that Le Ballon has come together to be more than the sum of its parts and has enriched the lives of everyone that it has touched. I can only hope that some of the people involved are even half as taken by LBFC as I am. I, like many of the other players in the league was not a part of this Parisian world before the creation of the league or the Ballon bar. These people that were able to partake and share my football vision have ended up building my entire world around me, they have become my closest friends and allowed Le Ballon to become a global (calm down, Jack!) name with huge aspirations. Without realising, the collective strength of Le Ballon’s community, and football unity has become the most important thing in the world to me. Without it, my world would not be anywhere near as much fun, and it would be a nowhere near as big. Community, team-spirit and collectivity is so important, and in these divisive times, this is truer than ever.
Here at Le Ballon HQ we are delighted to be a part of the FIFA franchise for 2021 and beyond. We have been huge fans of EA Sports’ creation since the very early days and our own misspent childhoods! It is an honour and hugely exciting to see our badge, our colours and our community creations on the screen like this.