Premier League coaches join the RSC to swap the tricks of their trades

Around 55 are expected to attend a series of acting workshops before teaching the thespians to play football. Nick Clark finds out why
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The Independent Culture

Since amateur dramatics are played out weekly in the Premier League, from elaborate goal celebrations to acrobatic dives, few would suggest that players or even coaches need much training from a theatre company.

Yet a selection of coaches from each of the 20 Premier League clubs is to head to the Royal Shakespeare Company in Stratford-upon-Avon on Wednesday to learn theatrical tips on how to help their footballers move instinctively and freely when playing in public.

The coaches will then make a second visit, to give football training to actors appearing in the RSC production of The Christmas Truce, set in the First World War.

Actor Peter McGovern, who is in the play and who is also a Manchester United fan, said: "We're so excited about it; we don't know which coaches are coming down but we rather like the idea of Roy Keane." Keane, a former star player at Man Utd, is now a coach with Aston Villa. "I like the idea of him shouting at us," the performer said. "That's the dream."

This marks the second year of the Premier League's Elite Coach Apprenticeship Scheme (Ecas), set up to educate and develop "world leading coaches".

The coaches selected are released from their clubs for three days a month and introduced to different experiences to help them develop skills from beyond the football world and use these in their coaching.

German and English soldiers, Christmas 1914

Among the organisations the Ecas scheme works with are UK Athletics, British Cycling, and Ashridge Business School. Each coach then works with four mentors, which include former England rugby union head coach Brian Ashton and business psychologist Heidi Hunter-Cope.

It is the first time the Premier League has taken coaches to the RSC. Around 55 are expected to attend the series of workshops on Wednesday morning. The RSC said the movement sessions are to "explore ways of becoming physically open, instinctive and reactive through fundamental movement exercises".

Actor Peter McGovern plays Private Harris in the RSC production

The coaches will then participate in a session of stage combat technique "learning how to create an effective moment of violence on stage", which will no doubt leave Premier League referees nervous.

Experts will also look at the "dynamics of ensemble work". The RSC may avoid mentioning Shakespeare's one reference to the sport in King Lear in which the term "you base football player" is used as an insult.

The RSC play The Christmas Truce follows the story of the men of the Warwickshire Regiment on the Western Front on Christmas Eve 1914. Across in the enemy German trenches the British soldiers hear Christmas carols; this prompts the two sides to meet in No Man's Land and talk, exchange gifts and, the following day, play a game of football. The actors will recreate the match on the RSC stage, and the game will continue around the auditorium.

McGovern plays Private Harris, a devout Christian troubled by being at war. As part of the coaching the actors are hoping to "improve our first touch", the actor explained. "One bad touch and the ball is in the audience, which won't be great."

At one point in the play there is a penalty, and the actors have been planning two ways to play the scene that follows, "depending on how accurate our taker is on the day".

The Premier League has also been working on commemorating the centenary of the Christmas Truce match with a week of activity in December. This will include the UK's first memorial to the truce and a tournament in Ypres, the site of some of the bloodiest fighting, on artificial pitches donated by the Premier League. The under-12 tournament will include youth teams from the Premier League, German Bundesliga, French Ligue 1 and the Belgium Pro League as well as from Scotland and Austria.