“Time flies, right!?”
Jeremy Lynch was all too aware of the upcoming anniversary for he and partner-in-crime Billy Wingrove when answering the phone to FIFA.com.
When the curtain raises on 11 January in Zurich for the FIFA Ballon d'Or Gala it will mark five years since Jeremy and Billy – better known to their millions of fans as the F2 Freestylers – brought their exceptionally skilled double-act to the wider world.
And since? They've gone from strength to strength, testing their technique against the likes of Neymar, Bastien Schweinsteiger and Steven Gerrard on their YouTube channel – and that's just in the last two months!
Opening the 2010 Gala was a dream for the pair, who had both performed solo for a number of years, having only recently joined forces to try something new. “The buzz around individual freestyle had peaked,” explained Jeremy. “We took [synchronised dance] and added our amazing football tricks to create something that's never been seen before.”
Having studied the likes of Michael Jackson's on-stage moves and world-renowned dance-troupes, while armed with sharp suits and even sharper skills, they found themselves arriving for rehearsals five hours before the show kicked off. “Those five hours of waiting were the most agonising of my life,” recalled Jeremy. “We were just sat there waiting to do the biggest performance of our lives. We've never had so much time for tension to build!” he laughed.
And despite performing with a FIFA World Cup™ Jabulani ball for the first time, once they hit the stage that melted away. “The first 30 seconds to a minute is when you have the nerves, as soon as you get through that the adrenaline kicks in and it's the best feeling in the world!” said Billy.
Met by rapturous applause by a crowd containing the likes of Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo, Pep Guardiola and Jose Mourinho was overwhelming for them both, but an encounter with the Real Madrid forward sticks with them even more. With the duo failing to get backstage to mingle with the players, the Portuguese star sought them out to personally congratulate them.
“We never thought he'd make a gesture like that,” said Jeremy. “I still can't believe he did that, he's a quality, quality guy.” The pair have worked with the three-time Ballon d'Or winner before and since, with nothing but praise for the 2015 nominee.
“Off the pitch he's one of the nicest guys we've ever met,” former Arsenal trainee Jeremy maintains. “So humble, down-to-earth, time for everyone. We can't figure out how anyone could think he's arrogant. He just doesn't apologise for who he is, and why should he?”
They began their YouTube channel, which combines silky skills and displays of phenomenal goal-scoring technique, a few months later and with almost two and half million subscribers it's fair to say business is booming for the F2. “People laugh when we tell them our original target was 80,000 subscribers,” said Billy incredulously.
The pair have crossed paths with the other two talents in the running for this year's Ballon d'Or too. The fact that their channel hosted Neymar recently shows how successful they've become, but Billy's claim to fame, acting as Messi's legs for a TV commercial, is hard to top. “I've done it about three times now, it's quite funny,” he chuckled.
“There was an advert with Kobe Bryant where they're on a plane and I'm actually his body – they just used his head on me! It's incredible to think that I've been Messi's body.”
But the lads regularly find they're pinching themselves when they see where they are now. “We never expected to get to this level where the players know about us,” Billy revealed, “they watch the videos and they're keen to be involved.” Jeremy added that after filming with Neymar “he asked us if he could follow us on Instagram and we're thinking 'this is Neymar!'”
It could have been all so different though, with Billy being a trainee at Tottenham Hotspur across north London from Jeremy. “If we had made it in football there would be no F2. Everyone has a path and ours was clearly to form F2 as we're breaking boundaries,” the latter explained.
Both dreamed of being English Premier League stars, but when it came down to deciding on football or freestyle Billy added: “The way I summed it up was that I'm much closer to being the best in the world at skills than playing football.”
With over 275 million views to date, they're proud to be impacting the next generation, but in their years of filming with players who has really impressed them? “Ronaldo has to be top,” according to Jeremy. “Number one: his physique. When you meet him you see he's built like a government experiment. Number two: for such a big guy you would not expect him to have such exceptional touch.”
Billy is less sure. Messi isn't one for skills off the pitch – so is exempt from the argument – and “between Ronaldo and Neymar it's like-for-like.” Riyad Mahrez ranks as his biggest surprise package though, “he's got the lot – very similar to Neymar in fact”, while Gerrard's ability to pick out the top corner time after time “is the thing that has taken my breath away the most”.
Messi remains their favourite for this year's Ballon d'Or though, with Neymar pushing the usual suspects close next year, but a sit down interview with Pele is the moment that will stay with them the longest. “We both got quite emotional after it that,” said Jeremy. “It hit us in the car after.”
“Jez and I were texting each other after saying 'I can't believe this just happened',” Billy added. “No matter how old we get, we will always be able to look back and show people that moment. That's the beauty of YouTube. It's timeless.”