Ben Silva has been involved in many different sports over the years, from cricket to football and most noticeably athletics. He has even coached England football internationals for a short spell, albeit when they were much younger, and has brilliantly led VCP to victory in the English Schools Football Association Cup not once, but twice. With all this in mind, it would be hard to believe that the now PE teacher had absolutely no interest in sport in his younger years.
Sportscast Jersey’s Daniel Andrade caught up with him at VCP and it was an interview full of fond memories and laughs.
Here is what he said:
Have you always been into sport from a very young age?
No! This is why it is quite nice, me being a PE teacher now. I can say that up until the age of eight I was one of the most un-sporty of people, much to the disappointment of my parents I have to say! They wanted me to play football, but I was just not interested. I just wanted to read books. It was Year 4 when my mum forced me to go on a cricket course and I was kicking & screaming because I didn’t want to do it! The end of that week they must have felt sorry for me for being so rubbish and gave me most improved player. All I remember was everyone cheering me as I went up to receive the award, and that was one of the most pivotal moments of my development as all I could remember was thinking, wow, I really like that and could have more of that. My whole attitude to sport changes off the back of that. I went from the last person picked to becoming 100% dedicated and working hard to become better at sport!
You represented Jersey in Cricket – how much did you love that sport?
I was very lucky. When growing up I played a lot of sports at junior level for the island. I loved all sports and I feel because I wasn’t into sport at the start made any sport that I tried even better. I played a lot of football, tennis, badminton and swimming, so many different sports. It was around the age of 14/15 when you have to specialise, and cricket was the sport of choice for me at that time. I trained hard for that and had a great experience with the Jersey Cricket Board and Chris Minty in particular was a very important part of my upbringing. I remember taking part in those Standard Banks where you get a lot of the lads who went on to play for England, and I performed really well in them. That for me kickstarted my cricket career. I obviously went on to represent the island and absolutely loved it. I went to university and was picked to play for British Universities, unfortunately I came back to Jersey for a week, did a cliff jump and ruined the top of my spine, so had to stop playing for a couple of years. That was very upsetting. You imagine yourself going professional and to be selected for British Universities was a great honour. To then not be able to do it because of a little moment was heartbreaking at the time. It kickstarted me into the coaching though, which I really enjoy.
Talk to us about Sheffield United! How good was the experience was that for you?
I think in hindsight, I don’t think I did appreciate it enough! I was there when I was in my early 20’s. My dad brought Sheffield United over to Jersey a few times as he was good friends with Dave Bassett and then eventyally became friends with Derek Dooley who was the chairmen at Sheffield United, so over the years we become family friends. As I was doing football coaching, they opened loads of doors for me which I am grateful for. I lived with the chairman and spent six months coaching which was an unbelievable experience. I got to train with the first team whenever I wanted. Neil Warnock was the manager at the time and he was absolutely brilliant. I worked under his brother, John, in the u19s squad and a couple of other guys, Ron Reed and Kevin Fogg who were great. They all had so much time which meant I got brilliant development and a real good picture of what is required to become a really good coach, and a very good football player subsequently as well.
How good was it to see Neil Warnock in action first hand?
It was one of those things where whenever you knock on his door, there was not one occasion where he said he was too busy. He always had the time to help out if I wanted to talk. Say I was running a set piece session, I could run it through him and he would be absolutely brilliant with it. I loved working with him. He is a very articulate and kind person when he is not in that footballing environment.
In the youth set up there was the likes of Phil Jagielka, Harry Maguire and Kyle Walker. Could you tell they were going to make it?
Jagielka was in the u19s where I was mainly based and you could tell with him because he was incredibly disciplined, hard working and was so versatile. He had that attitude where he would stay back after every session. He was the one where everybody thought that he had real potential to go a long way. Kyle Walker funnily enough, in the Junior sides, play up front. He was big, strong and really fast so he played up top at those ages. For him to develop into a world class right back has been quite interesting. All I remember with Maguire, as he was a bit younger, is that it used to irrate me a little bit is that Sheffield United would look at guys and pick the guys who are big, strong and who had physical attributes, ignoring, in my opinion, some of the technical skills. That was Maguire. He was double the size of everyone else and I thought he was probably not going to make it. Obviously, that has proved me wrong. He has done very well. The one thing I would say is that those who made it worked harder. People say it is natural, which there is a degree off, but it is hard work that trumps everything I believe.
Is it good to say that even if it is a small amount, that you were part of those players’ development?
Yeah it is great, just tell the boys that I teach now. I had very little impact realistically as I was only there for a few months, as much as I could pretend that they made it because of me. At that point they would listen to you and they would take on board stuff you would say, but I wasn’t even that much older than them. It is great to say that you have coached England internationals though.
What made you start athletics back in 2006?
I managed to go back to cricket, and got into the island set up but then I broke my wrist. Unfortunately it didn’t get picked up originally, went back a couple months later and it still didn’t get picked up. I knew there was something not right as I was struggling to play cricket. A year later I found out that I had fractured my wrist but the bone had died because it had been broken for so long. That cut my cricket career short. My wife at the time, Katie, was a runner and she persuaded me to have a go. I did compete when I was younger so I loved getting into the running again because starting so late at 26/27 I had the enthusiasm because I hadn’t done it for such an extended period. I think athletics is a tough sport because when you are pushing your body to the limit every time, you are doing lactic sessions where you are throwing up. I don’t think I could have done it in my teenage years! I embraced it and it lead onto multiple Island Games which I have been really lucky to have been involved in.
Your first Island Games was a year after you started – how much of a whirlwind was that for you!
It was wonderful! All I remember is that it was so new and so exciting. Even the little things like the opening ceremony in Rhodes was a great place to start. I loved the camaraderie around the group and I think for me, mainly coming from teams sports point of few, I loved doing all of the relays. It was almost more important than the individual events for me personally.
You won Gold in 2013 in the 4×400. How good was that for you?
I think it is one of my favourite ever sporting moments. We were rank outsiders. At that point we only had one 400m specialist in our team. Me as a 100m runner, Elliot Dorey was a standout 1500m runner, Ollie Terry at 800m and then Robbie Stenhouse who won the bronze, I believe, in the 400m. It was the last event of the whole Island Games in Bermuda. There were thousands of people there inside a massive stadium, so the atmosphere was unreal. All the atheltes were there, loads of locals were there because Bermuda were favourites to win the relays. It was electric. Anyone that knows me, knows that I love a crowd! Anytime there is people around I love it. I love performing in front of people and I have always tended to do better when there is people watching. We were probably one of the slowest qualifiers. In the end, I think we all ended up running PBs in the final and it was one of those surreal moments.
In the race itself, when did you know you were going to win?
It is quite funny really. If anybody see’s the video like the boys here have seen it just for a laugh. I started off first in Lane 8 and completed my leg, where we were around third. At that point I had collapsed and I was being sick everywhere, so I was literally an absolute mess! I was lying in the track with first aid people around me. So I didn’t have a clue what happened in the second or third leg. It was only when people were saying ‘Ben you need to get up, you are going to win a medal here!’ All I remember is getting up and thinking oh my word, we are going to win a medal! Then, knowing that Robbie was on our last leg, and the people who had beat him in the individual 400m event had already ran their legs, we thought we were going to win the gold. It was unbelievable.
How good was it to be part of the Island Games here in Jersey?
I have been lucky that I have been to so many different Island Games, to have a home one was special. Part of the Island Games, for me, was the exploring of different places and cultures. However, to compete over with so many people you know there supporting you was great. Especially, working in a school, and at the time both myself and Dan Romeril were competing and working here at VCP. All the boys came down and the atmosphere was wonderful, they all knew you by name so you could really feel the buzz when you were running.
How good is to compete against the other athletes and countries at the Island Games too?
Now, because I have done so many it is lovely really because over the years you build up these friendly rivalries. I am in contact with so many of the people that I have competed against and it always good banter around it. They call it the friendly games and it is a lovely experience.
You guided VCP to two ESFA wins. Tell us about that?
I think what we do here in Jersey with Primary School football is phenomenal. To get where we did, as well as St Clements who have also won it, is amazing. It is literally one of the biggest football tournaments in the world in terms of the number of starting teams, so it is not like it is a little competition. There are over 3,000 schools that take part. You go through your regional stages and until 2012 no team from Jersey had ever got to the final national stage where you get the top two sides from each region. I remember the first time we got to the final in 2012, it was one of those where after a while you get an idea of how these competitions work. I am lucky here with the boys we have. They are so receptive to any ideas and realise that you are playing six or seven games a day, so if you get through the first two games it becomes a fitness competition. I tend to hammer the boys in terms of fitness so they don’t thank for me for it to start with, but if you get yourself super fit and add it to their intelligence in terms of tactics, they have a chance. Every game is tense as you are playing teams who have players who play for Arsenal, for Manchester United etc. Club footballers are everywhere. Individually we may not be as strong, but as a team we do very well. In 2012 we got to the final and played a team from the North and all I remember is that we played some great football but they had this one lad who was 6ft2 at this stage. He was dwarfing all of our lads and unfortunately we got beat just because that guy was so much bigger. It gave us a taste and then to win it back to back, and to be the only school in the country to do that was special and credit to the boys as they are 10/11 years old and pushing themselves to have a shot of winning it, and they did. It is great for them to play at great venues such as Stoke City’s and Coventry’s grounds too. To say that a school from Jersey has been National Champions three times, between us and St Clements, is unbelievable.
Do you prefer taking part or coaching?
I still try and compete with the running but I do miss the football and cricket I have to say, I find that hard. However, I am coaching and I am still on the football and cricket pitch with all the boys. You can live that through them. Even with the Island Games, helping the youngsters come through, you can take a lot of satisfaction from that. Unfortunately, as you get older your body won’t let you do what you want it to but for as long as I can, I am going to keep working as hard as I can for a participation point of view but I love the coaching and the teaching. I love the interaction with the people who are willing to through themselves into improving.