Firstly, I wanted to know how Ben heard about the show and how he managed to secure a place on it.
“I was playing for my under 18 team and we got taken along to trials for the show. None of us really knew much about it, we just thought it was training, but we saw all the Inter Milan badges and TV cameras around. Ken Brookes, our manager told us to relax and have a go, luckily enough I got spotted by Jamie Redknapp on the first trial. I was the only one out of 500 to get chosen. It was a big eye opener, we weren’t taking it that seriously, then next thing, I’m going to be on a TV show.”
Ben had a lot of confidence in his footballing ability but it still came as a massive shock to be chosen.
“I played well but lots of other people played well also. I made a few good crosses, nothing major, but they took a liking to me.”
After Ben had successfully got through the first trial he had to face another audition for the show at Watford where Jamie Redknapp was present once more.
“I remember at the trial in Watford speaking with Jamie Redknapp. He hadn’t done that for anyone else and it gave me the confidence that they were looking out for me. I remember feeling positive and not nervous at all which helped me play better.”
When Ben and the other successful players finally travelled to Italy, they stayed for six weeks and got an insight into the lifestyle of the world’s top footballers. The show combined aspects of Saturday night talent shows with competitive football as one player went home each week.
“It was very similar to what they do on the X Factor. We started to realise that it was like the football X Factor when were out there. I remember I got put in the danger zone once when we were in the final five. That was a really nerve wracking feeling because they have to reshoot everything with the cameras. Standing in the same place for about 30 minutes.”
Much of the reality TV we see is anything but reality and I wanted to know if any footage was constructed in the making of Football’s Next Star.
“They were really good at keeping everything realistic. We had cameras on us all the time, it was like living in a dream really. We were living in a mansion. It’s something that we can all look back on and remember fondly.”
Apart from being the winner of the show, I was interested to know what Ben’s most memorable experience from the show was,
“To be honest, when we did the final training session with Inter’s first team, I played really well and gave a good performance. We did an interview, which wasn’t broadcast because it made it seem more likely that I was going to win. I did an interview with Patrick Vieira and Jamie, Vieira put his arm around me and told me that I was a good player. It was an amazing thing to hear at the time as a 17 year old boy.”
Ben’s mindset before going to Italy was something I wanted to understand, I wanted to know if he always believed he could win.
“I went into each week wanting to do well, and make sure that I was there next week. They always felt that it was between me and Craig. I know Craig had his homesickness but it ended up being between him, me and Conor.”
Winning a Sky One show is not the standard way to get a football contract and I asked Ben if he could offer an insight into his move to Inter.
“They announced that I was going to Inter in January. I remember Jamie Redknapp coming up to me and he was disappointed because I had a two year deal at Tottenham if I didn’t win. If I had taken the contract at Tottenham, I would have had more of a chance at making it in England. Although, I couldn’t turn down Inter and Jose Mourinho. I did experience a treble winning year at Inter. I was part of this squad, I was in the reserves. If I went to Tottenham, I could have maybe got into League 1 and League 2. But that’s the way football goes, you don’t know what’s the right decision to make.
Considering that a contract and a career at Inter Milan was what the show offered, I asked Ben how he felt about leaving Inter.
“I knew I was never really going to break into the first team of the best team in the world. I went on loan to Como in Serie C and had a really good spell, scoring 7 goals in 11 games from left wing back. This was the time of the match fixing scandal and its good that I was on loan, because Como players weren’t getting paid. The toughest decision was coming back to England after having been out of the loop for two years.”
The first club Ben signed for after Inter was Brighton and he played for their under 21s.
“The standard of youth football is slow, the standard’s not very good. It’s not as realistic basically. They’re not all about winning, the mentality is different. It was taking too long to break into the first team so I went back to non-league. I signed for Ebbsfleet and that’s how I got noticed by Inverness.”
Despite his public reputation, Ben could not rely on his Inter past to get signed. He had to prove himself to coaches just like any other player.
“When I went to Inverness under Terry Butcher, that was when the media made a thing of the show. I’d been watched at Ebbsfleet and they didn’t sign me on the basis of the show. I loved it up there but I was unlucky that Terry Butcher left and I wasn’t part of John Hughes’ plans. I played 8 or 9 games under Butcher, there was a really good feeling about the club and vibe about the squad. I was unlucky that John Hughes never took a fancy to me. Football can work like that, you have a manager you like and then they’re gone.”
In 2018, Ben signed for non-league side Dartford and he’s scored 4 goals in 34 league appearances. I asked him about how he was finding life there.
“Dartford is really good, it’s probably the best non-league club in terms of facilities and fans. They’re having a really good run at the minute and I’m enjoying my time there.”
Aside from football, Ben has always been a regular golfer and has recently become a PGA professional.
“I’ve always played golf after football. When you play football you only train in the morning so you’ve got the rest of the day free. I really improved when I went to Inverness. I went up there on a 4 or 5 handicap and left on scratch. The courses up there were unbelievable, it was cold and windy which made playing down south a lot easier. I won a professional competition two years ago but I haven’t been able to play much since because I’m focusing on football and coaching. With golf you do have to put a lot of time into it if you want to make money. I’m not saying I will go into golf, I’d love to stay in football.”
Finally, I asked what his ambitions are for the rest of his footballing career and if he has ambitions of playing at a higher level.
“It’s a difficult one because I see myself as an experienced non-league footballer. I like that style of football and I’d be more than happy to stay at Dartford for the next 10 years. I’m not really looking to move on, I’ve had that time, I want to do well for the club that I’m at and see where we can take Dartford.”
You can find Ben on Twitter at @BenGreenhalgh and Instagram at bengreenhalgh17