FC Isle of Man crest

Strictly Doyle by Steve Burns

There have been so many positives to come out of FC Isle of Man’s over the past 12 months!

On the field, promotion to Step Five of the NWCFL at our first attempt and our young players winning the NWCFL First Division Challenge Cup were nothing short of sensational achievements for a new football club.

Off the field we broke all sorts of records for attendances in the non-league pyramid and we received global wide and high profile attention from broadcast, print and of course social media.

One aspect that has really surprised us though is that the club’s successes has turned some of the players into local celebrities. Whether that’s through TV appearances, the player pooling scheme which has inspired so many young fans to follow the Ravens and pick their favourite players or just through the great work that every single one of them has contributed to in the community schemes.

However, one player who has perhaps achieved that local celebrity status more than other is the Man on Fire, Sean Doyle. The striker has risen to every challenge that’s been thrown at him over the last year and last weekend he took on perhaps the biggest challenge yet. An invitation to take part in Strictly Manx, the Isle of Man’s very own version of the hit TV show.

I spent some time with Sean prior and after his performance on Saturday night. The first thing I wanted to know was how on earth he was roped into appearing?

“Well, like you said, I like a challenge”, laughs Doyle. “Seriously though, earlier this year my partner Laura’s grandmother was sadly taken into Hospice. The whole family were absolutely amazed at the care they gave her and I know everyone on the island will have been affected at some point and will have seen first-hand the care that Hospice gives.

“Shortly after Laura’s Nan sadly passed away, I got a phone call from James Turpin (event organizer) asking if I want to be involved in Strictly Manx. As I was at Laura’s house at the time, with the whole family I was receiving some serious ‘encouragement’ I had no choice but to agree to James’ request.

“Joking aside though, I recognized that it was a great opportunity to raise money for Hospice, as every dancer picks a charity, it was absolutely no brainer.”

While the initial idea of agreeing to participate in the event seemed like a good idea, reality soon set. Doyle is 6 ft. 5’ and his physique doesn’t necessarily lend itself to the graceful, lithe skills that would be required on the dance floor. Indeed, anyone who’d seen the Man on Fire strutting his stuff round the island’s night spots in recent years would agree that tripping the lights fantastic isn’t perhaps Sean’s greatest skill.

“Correct and I kind of figured that out a couple of days afterwards and asked myself ‘What on earth am I doing?’”, he explained. “I don’t (and usually can’t) dance. But I was fully committed, and I had to remember why I’d agreed to do it and try and take as much from the experience as possible and make it fun.”

Once the commitment has sunk in the next steps were to understand the process and to meet his dance expert partner and former British Champion, Jordan McCormack.

“The following weekend (after agreeing to take part)”, Sean continues. “We did a promo and I met Jordan for the first time. I was told that we were dancing, the American Smooth and we were thrown straight into rehearsals.

It was an in at the deep-end moment for Sean as he was suddenly thrust into an environment where he had the uneasy task of learning about the intricacies of dancing as well as understanding the actual dance he and Jordan were to perform and the steps, movement and of course the timing. There was a lot to learn in a short period of time.

“With rehearsals, I had to get started as soon as possible”, he explained. “So, from March, April time, I was practicing and rehearsing the dance once a week. Once the football season finished, rehearsals increased, and we were working up to four hours a week for 14 weeks leading up to the show.

“I think the good thing for me is I’m very competitive. I want to do well at everything I do and while I didn’t lose sight of the fact I was there to raise money for Hospice I also wanted to go there and do as well as I possibly could, and not let anyone, least of all Jordan, down.

“I think Jordan appreciated that because she knew I’d work hard to try to be the best job I can. But obviously you can be as hard working as you want to be, but you’ve got to have a little bit of ‘dance’ in you. I think I can move a tiny bit, but Jordan was a very good coach and helped me massively.”

That competitiveness that Sean refers to, can also have a negative effect, especially in unfamiliar surroundings and he admits that at times his frustrations during rehearsals boiled over.

“Everyone around me were very supportive and very, very patient”, says Sean. “I’ve had temper tantrums and I had meltdowns, and I was… well, when I can’t do something, I get frustrated and annoyed because I want to be able to do it. So, I’ve had moments in rehearsals where I haven’t been able to do part of the routine or and I had to try and be patient. Thankfully, Jordan had that patience and it helped me learn the steps and the techniques and everything.”

As dance time approached, Doyle admitted the nerves were getting to him.

“Well, they were going last night (the day before the competition)”, he said. “I had a dress rehearsal, and I was very nervous. But then once I get into it it’s like playing football. Once you get out on the pitch, or the stage, whatever it is, your kind of just moving, concentrating, and hopefully performing.

“On the day of the event I was a mixed bag, really. Every time I thought about it, I got nervous, but then I was also super excited to know that Laura, her family, my family and my family’s friends were all there to support us. Just like it would be a Saturday at the Bowl, and I’ve had the same support system there.”

And so to event itself. Sean and Jordan were the fifth of six dancer partners, but the first challenge was for Sean to explain to the audience why he had chosen the charity that he had. Next came the waiting as he and his partner stood patiently awaiting their turn. Halfway through the night, there was a break between performers, and over saunters Doyle to the FC Isle of Man Media table, ‘how did the lads get on he asks?’ We quickly send him on his way with a friendly rebuke to go away and focus.

At just after 9.15 o’clock Sean and Jordan took to the floor. To the audience the two-minute routine looked flawless, culminating in Sean leaping right over Jordan as if he was rising to meet that Whitley cross against West Didsbury all over again. The Villa Marina erupted in much like the crowd on that February night at the Bowl. The judges gave their favourable feedback and we sat back to await the results.

Unfortunately, the judge’s scores didn’t match their earlier comments, and Sean and Jordan were placed fourth overall. Still a mighty fine achievement. The Man on Fire had performed to his maximum but was a little disappointed with the final result, although he quickly regathered his senses and realized what he had actually achieved.

“I am very disappointed”, said Sean as we spoke in the foyer after the judge’s ruling. “I’m a competitor and on the day and I want to win whatever I take part in, but I guess that’s second to raising money for an amazing charity. So you know what? I’ve won in terms of raising money.

“Also, I’ve had so much fun. I’ve enjoyed it from start to finish. It’s been fantastic and I just want to say thank you to everyone involved with the event for getting me involved and a special thanks to Jordan for all her help and support with the dance itself.”

Sean Doyle has amazed everyone at FC Isle of Man with his exploits this past 12 months. And now we’re quite excited to see what’s next.