Hayward enters the limelight
© FIFA.com

In the heart of London's Theatreland on Monday 2 March, a script was being written that was as dramatic as the shows that hundreds of thousands of people attend every week. The scene, however, could not be seen on stage in England's capital city, but at Floridita, a venue famed for its cocktails, cuisine and Cuban feel.

This was the venue for the UK Live Qualifier for the FIFA Interactive World Cup 2009, with the winner going all the way to Barcelona for a shot at global glory. The kingdom's greatest gamers were in attendance, making it all the more remarkable that that a complete unknown, namely 16-year-old Ryan Hayward, emerged victorious.

His debut performance was something that he will never forget - and he fully deserved the standing ovation which came at the end of his breathtaking finale. Twice going behind to fellow teenager Graham Ellix, Hayward roared back to win 4-2 in front of an appreciative crowd and take the ticket to the Grand Final in the process.

There was another twist in the tale, as the rank outsider told FIFA.com that he was merely an understudy. "I wasn't actually meant to be here," said the youngster from Dulwich.

"I went to the Trafalgar Square qualifying event, but Chris Bullard beat me 3-2 and knocked me out of the competition. I was placed on a reserve list for tonight, but it was unlikely that I would be called up. Miraculously, last Thursday, someone got in touch and asked whether I could come. I put in a few more hours practice and it paid off. I can't believe it."

I hope he wins in Barcelona. He's come here and shown the UK what he can do - and I'm sure he will show the world now too.
Losing finalist Graham Ellix.

But the path to glory was a tough one for the Manchester United fan, as he came up against two former winners of the UK Live Qualifier in the shape of Michael Barrett and nemesis Bullard.

"When I saw that I'd been drawn against Chris again, I turned to my mum and said ‘I've lost,'" he admitted. "He's so good - and then I had to play Michael, who many people thought would beat me. But I have to say that my toughest game was the final. There was never a moment when I felt comfortable - even at 4-2. Graham has got it all. He would have been a worthy winner too."

Ellix showed incredible sportsmanship after his defeat and even backed his opponent to go all the way in Barcelona. "He had the better of me throughout the game - and it's incredible that he's come from nowhere to win," he said. "There aren't many people who could beat Chris and Michael back-to-back. I hope he wins in Barcelona. He's come here and shown the UK what he can do - and I'm sure he will show the world now too."

There was some small consolation for the runner-up, as he was the first of the 32 competitors to greet Emmanuel Adebayor, the star striker for Ellix's heroes, Arsenal. The Togo captain was also joined by West Ham United defender Jack Collison, Tottenham Hotspur's Jamie O'Hara and Armand Traore, currently on-loan at Portsmouth.

Soap star Joe Swash challenged Adebayor to a game of FIFA 09 and won 1-0, while the rest of the evening's entertainment was provided by Martial arts experts Chloe and Grace Bruce, ‘THePETEBOX' - one of the world's finest human beatboxers and freestyling king John Farnworth, who, together with Hayward, is also set to display his skills at this year's Grand Final.

Now with one eye on the event on 2 May, the Business Studies, Drama and Sociology student knows that he will have to devote more time to his gaming in order to follow in Bullard's footsteps and become a world champion.

"I'll have to up the training time to improve and I'll have to put the hours in. Hopefully, I can go all the way. Bring it on," he beamed.