Henry Staples and The Myth: Meet two inspiring young SE London men

853’s special correspondent and turf expert MERCURY MAN has a festive double-bill for you – highlighting two talented young men raising eyebrows, one in an international troublespot, the other on the football fields of SE12…

Mercury Man logoYou don’t need a professional prognosticator to tell you Henry Staples and Ryan Martin are chalk and cheese. Or a disciple of diversity to celebrate the fact that both these young men, in their very different ways, make invaluable contributions to the spiritual welfare of SE London.

Let’s take 26-year-old Henry, from Mottingham, first. As we speak he’s on a mission high up in the Colombian capital of Bogota, Now, the chances of you or I being in Bogota are pretty slim, let alone on a mission. Bognor at a stretch, but Bogota?

What got Henry there, leaving aside for a moment the 5,278-mile flight, was a determination that’s nothing short of inspirational and a passion for his subject that matches Ronnie’s for snooker.

Henry’s desideratum was a PhD on the state of Columbia now that the rebel group – known by their own acronym as Farc – have laid down their arms for the first time since the Beatles wanted to hold your hand back in 1964.

Henry Staples
Henry Staples: On a mercy dash in Colombia
Again, you and I would still have swerved the scenario for safety reasons, but not our Henry. He applied to one of those Russell Group universities and got accepted, only to then be baulked at the first hurdle. No funding, sorry.

I’d’ve leapt at the loophole and switched to a PHd on what makes “Kammy” Kamara tick, but Henry re-emailed the uni professors and somehow got a meaningful dialogue going. The professors were duly won over and all agreed they’d apply for funds to send him to Columbia on a “research project”.

Weeks passed and the worst was feared, but finally the good news came through that sent Henry dashing upstairs for his passport. And not only had the dosh materialised but the profs agreed to fund Henry’s PhD as well!

He went up to meet them face to face and, sure enough, the professors went on to include Henry in a team that’s applying for funds from a doshtank called the Economic and Social Research Council to build bridges between their university and the one in Bogota.

Start the car… but, hold on, I should declare an interest here. Henry’s mum, Carol Staples, was the unwavering chief reporter at the Mercury back in the day, and one morning she brought little Henry to Deptford High Street where he could type before he could toddle. And at year five in primary school his teacher, we kid you not, called out “Professor” and not Henry at registration!

That youngster is now doing his bit in South America on what we used to call a “mercy dash”, trying to bring a little light to a part of the globe that could do with any that’s going.

Henry’s due back at the end of January, ready to start his PhD in February. I know you’ll join me in wishing him well, asking the “Chief” to keep him safe while he’s away and to get that brilliant brain working for the many, not the few (I stipulated no politics, please – Ed).

You’d better put the kettle on before I move on to Ryan Martin.

CLOCKS WORKING: Guess what? Following my last missive, the clocks on the Gibb Memorial Shelter on Blackheath are working again! I called on Blackheath Westcombe councillors Brighty, Morrissey and Parker to show some civic oomph and they’ve done it in spades. I don’t believe rumours that Cllr John Fahy – who is still having nightmares about the borough hall clocks, circa 1999 – pleaded with them, but one can certainly wonder.

Good, thanks, welcome back…

The reason for the break is that Ryan Martin’s a local Sunday morning footballer and you really need to rid yourself if you can of ALL football mores and preconceptions.

The Myth - SE Dons
Man of mystery: The Myth is pixellated out of match videos

Wipe from your memory every utterance by Merse and Jeff and Kammy because Ryan Martin is nothing less than a poet on the pitch and Sky hype just won’t do where Ryan’s concerned.

I’m even thinking of contacting Marco, a carpenter friend of mine, to build a single makeshift turnstile for people to pay a fiver to watch Ryan play, all proceeds going of course to the Injured Jockeys Fund.

Some of you are no doubt already thinking that you’ve seen Sunday morning footballers just as good as any old Ryan. No, you haven’t. Everyone he’s played with says he’s the best player they’ve ever played with.

Perhaps I shouldn’t even be using Ryan’s name. The team he plays for – SE Dons FC in the Premier Division of the Metropolitan Sunday League – call him “The Myth”, even during play.

The SE Dons are a uniquely boisterous crew themselves who video all their games (including by drone) and get upwards of 60,000 views on YouTube, more than Palace, Charlton and Millwall combined. Their wonderfully affectionate respect for The Myth extends to pixelating his face during the match day action!

So what’s so special about The Myth? Well, as the coaches talk about “seeing things early” and “making good decisions”, Ryan Martin always sees things early and always makes good decisions, like a wise man in the mountains.

Skill? If Ryan Martin joined the keep-ball sessions with Messi at Barcelona’s training ground, observers would ask: “Who’s the guy with the magical left foot?”

You want a second opinion? At the Dons’ last home game at Tudor Sports ground in Eltham Road, Lee, I chatted with a former very good local player who told me this: “The Myth turned up to play for our summer six-a-side team on Blackheath two years ago.

“It was a typically random appearance from a player well known to be a total maverick, but his three or four games for the Graft Dodgers blew everyone away.

“We caught up with him a few months later playing in the premier division of the Met League and it was then that I felt I was watching a genuine football genius. I’d heard the stories about Ryan playing a cup final wearing Converse All-Star and refusing to wear pads, so it was no surprise he was wearing the bobble hat the first time we saw him for the SE Dons.”

Word has it that Ryan had a two-week trial at Charlton Athletic back in 2008 (how good must he have been then, younger and fitter?). The coaches loved his astonishing abilities apparently but the manager – one Alan Pardew – said no.

Tricks? My man went on to say: “I’ve only seen three players who can execute the ‘string’ (where a player can roll the ball with the outside of his foot and back again, like a yoyo) in full flight – fat Ronaldo, Ronaldhino and Ryan Martin.

“You might say his right foot is weak but that’s hardly a handicap because every time the ball comes to his right he just hits a Rambona (striking the ball by wrapping his left around the back of his standing leg) up to 25 yards.

“Also, his array of no-look passes is just amazing. I know he used to wow crowds at Fisher, Dulwich Hamlet and Welling United, where he scored a hat-trick from midfield in his first match and was immediately christened ‘Ryanaldinho’ by fans (check this sublime free kick at Welling on YouTube, his wand of a left foot able to generate great power combined with all sorts of different dips and spins).”

My contact also mentioned how Ryan often controls the ball with his studs, a very rare technique that he thinks Ryan uses to get the ball “out of his feet” as quickly as possible. Then he went on to what he thinks is the most fascinating part of The Myth’s game.

“He has the most amazing understanding of the game and an unbelievable desire to play it correctly, irrespective of the standard he’s playing at. He could have used the Dons’ matches to showcase his abundant skills – and sometimes he had us standing and clapping and smiling – but he was just as happy playing simple passes and two-touch.”

The Myth has a huge reputation in local Sunday football and there’s a unique circus atmosphere generated by the SE Dons that’s well captured (sometimes coarsely) on YouTube.

Mercury Man logoBut, better still, check the fixtures and get along to Tudor Sports Ground at 31 Eltham Road, Lee, one Sunday morning. If you love what used to be the beautiful game, share the joy of watching The Myth playing it… and ponder what was lost to the game.

SE Dons are holding a special event on Sunday where supporters can play with the team – including The Myth – for a few minutes. Apparently there have already been 300 applications. Join the crowd at Tudor Sports/ FKG Ground, 31 Eltham Road, SE12 8ES at 10.30am on Sunday 17 December.

Got a tale for Mercury Man? Leave a comment below or email mercuryman.853[at]gmail.com.