The Coral's Jack Prince: ‘I’m used to football being ruined’

In between gigs the drummer is taking his Uefa coaching badge in Wales and says it is ‘not for fun and games’

I still need you but I don’t want you now.

As usual Jack Prince is first off stage, followed by James Skelly in his stetson and shades. Inside the 11,000-seat arena they are cheering, Dreaming Of You closes the set and the band heads into the dark backstage, past piles of cables and flashing consoles, to the dressing room. A sheet of A4 is stuck on the door, “The Coral” printed on it. Inside, it is grey, basic, bottles loaded on a table, bags strewn about and after the initial diagnosis – “boss gig, that” – conversation soon returns to where it had been a couple of hours earlier: football.

“Every footballer wants to be a musician and every musician I know wants to be a footballer,” Prince says. The Coral have fans among players, especially here: “Jamie Carragher is a Coral fan. Leighton Baines is, Tom Davies, Jordan Pickford, loads of the academy boys. I’d like to think André Gomes is.”

The way he tells it, Nick Power, the Coral keyboard player, literally had to choose between signing a pro contract or a record deal. And if Prince, the percussionist and the only Everton fan in a group of Reds who enjoy winding him up, doesn’t want to be a player any more it’s because he wants to be a manager. “Like, really.”

Prince is working for his Uefa B coaching licence. “I’m lucky, touring’s not a full-time job, being in a band isn’t, unless you’re the songwriter. When we’re on tour, I’m on Globall Coach [a software tool] on my laptop building sessions.

“It’s brilliant on stage,” he says, and in these moments after a gig you can see it, adrenaline still flowing. During it you can, too: arms flying, shoulders rolling, heart pumping. “But,” he continues, “I get the same kick coaching.”

In the dressing room Power and Prince are talking about football and identity, about Eric Cantona, Athletic Bilbao, Real Sociedad and Rayo Vallecano, whom they visited a week before. They are also trying to decide what to do next. The Coral have just played in Liverpool: “home” for the Wirral band formed in 1996. Now these two have to DJ an aftershow party in the city centre, which they’re cursing. An hour each: who goes first? Prince wants to get away quick if he can: he has to be up early to get to Wrexham.

Jack Prince during a soundcheck with The Coral in Liverpool.
Jack Prince during a soundcheck with The Coral in Liverpool. Photograph: Richard Saker/The Observer

As it turns out, he almost doesn’t. The night finishes late and it takes a timely call as the sun comes back up over the river, but Prince makes it to Collier’s Park the following morning, the cold biting at the Football Association of Wales’s centre. Players have been drafted in from the Wales development squad and the Welsh Premier League team Connah’s Quay so he can hold a session – all organised by Mark Roberts, Prince’s mentor at the FAW. Roberts has been impressed, he says. There is talent, if a little self-consciousness still. There is also dedication. This is serious.

“I’m not doing this just for fun and games,” Prince says. “I want to coach at professional level. If I put on a session and the players take something from it, if you feel you’ve taught someone, you get such a sense of reward. I used to get that when I gave drum lessons years ago. Music is different to football, but that part feels similar.”

Prince is 32 and he began playing the drums 20 years ago after a supply teacher stuck on a video of Woodstock instead of doing RE. “I’m watching Jimi Hendrix and the Who, Keith Moon smash shit out of the drums and I’m 11 and I’m like: ‘I want to do that,’” he says. But if you’re watching Hendrix, why wasn’t it the guitar? “You can only smash one guitar, can’t you? Whereas you can smash six drums at a time. And drummers are mental, aren’t they? Every drummer I know is an absolute lunatic.”

Prince performing in concert.
Prince performing in concert. Photograph: Richard Saker/The Observer

Part of a band called the Hot Melts – “shocking name; we got it off a Wetherspoons menu, I think” – there was a six-figure recording deal straight out of school, but the week their first album was released he left. Why? “Because we went to Aberdeen and played in front of two people. I went: ‘Fuck this.’” The album “bombed”. He’s laughing now.

There were auditions – unsuccessful mostly, until he hid his scouse accent – and session work. “Pop bands, X Factor stuff,” he says. “I toured with Olly Murs, stuff like that. Essentially, that was miming for three months. Literally, the drum skins would be nets, mesh. It’s mental. I got paid to hit mesh.”

He then played with Bill Ryder-Jones, a founder member of the Coral, who became his best mate. And five years ago, unexpectedly, he got another call. “I was like, James Skelly? And he said: ‘Look, I want you to be in the Coral.’”

Prince moved to Barcelona – “a girl; we broke up” – where he was a regular at the second division club Reus before they folded. He started coaching a local club called Premier Barcelona before a friend, Dominic Casciato, took him to watch sessions at Espanyol. He began working with kids’ teams in the soccer school there, and then a concert took him to the next stage.

“Bryn Law [the sometime Sky Sports reporter] came to a Coral gig,” he says. “I knew he was affiliated to the FAW and I said: ‘I’m interested in doing coaching badges.’ Within two minutes I had Carl Darlington on the phone, the Wrexham coach, and Gareth Owen, head of the Uefa B licence.”

And so here he is, on a winter morning in Wrexham, leading a group of young players – half of whom, it later turns out, were at the concert the night before. The aim is to achieve overloads, outnumbering opponents, find ways past the press. “I’ve learned the ‘Welsh Way’,” Prince says, “and that means breaking the lines, playing around or over.”

The FAW pathway was taken by Thierry Henry, Patrick Vieira, Mikel Arteta and Tim Cahill. Mark Roberts watches Prince closely. Coaching has changed, he says. Today it’s more technical, positional, more cerebral. The B licence requires candidates to design and deliver 16 sessions, the objectives clearly defined.

Prince with players from Connah’s Quay and Wrexham under 18s at Colliers Park.
Prince with players from Connah’s Quay and Wrexham under 18s at Colliers Park. Photograph: Joel Goodman/The Guardian

The ball moves fast. From the side of the pitch, to the untrained eye, it is difficult to make much sense of it. But the drummer’s eyes are different now. “When I walked in the first day, the people teaching us said: ‘We need to apologise: you’re never going to watch football the same way again. We’re going to ruin football for you.’ I was like: ‘Whoa, hang on.’ I mean, I’ve never seen Everton win a thing in my lifetime so I’m used to football being ruined, but it’s true. I can’t just watch football any more.”

After the session there is a debriefing and a cup of tea. Happy, Prince gets in the car, back to Birkenhead. He can’t hang about. The Coral play again tonight. En route he talks about Messi – “God, I hate that debate, don’t you? He’s underrated” – banging the drums with the Reus ultras, hammering a rhythm on the steering wheel, and, of course, Everton.

“We’re shite,” he says. “Tom Davies is a great playmaking midfielder but he’s not getting games. There’s Anthony Gordon in the academy: he’s going to be a superstar. Again, if he gets minutes. There’s a guy called Kieran Dowell, we keep loaning him out, and Antony Evans. Stars. Everton have this great academy, always have, but you feel the identity is being lost.

“Years ago I just wanted us to be rich, like when City started winning titles. But now we’re spunking money and there’s this managerial merry-go-round. I grew up with David Moyes and now it’s a different manager every season, all this money wasted. Ronald Koeman bought six No 10s and we’re still recovering from that. We’re a huge club. You don’t want to use that phrase ‘sleeping giant’ but it’s sad.”

Prince pictured at Colliers Park.
Prince pictured at Colliers Park. Photograph: Joel Goodman/The Guardian

Mostly, though, he talks about coaching, his plans. “I’m football-driven now,” he says. “I’ve spent 12 years on the road and that lifestyle is completely different. I’d like to do both. That would be great although, if I became a coach, I suppose that might be the end of music.

“I’d miss it but I think I like music more than it likes me and I don’t know if I can be in a band forever. It’s a good story, innit? If you can do coaching badges, be a binman and get to the EFL, I don’t see why I can’t be a musician and get there.”

The car pulls up, the tour bus is waiting: the Coral are off to Leeds and then Moscow. Jack Prince still has gigs as well as games to play. But where does this end? Will he be Everton manager one day? He stops for a moment, thinks about the state they are in, and then laughs. “I think I have to be, don’t I?”


Sid Lowe

The GuardianTramp

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