After 9 years playing for the same team, Marc Weatherstone decided he needed a new test. Most players would simply move club to open a new chapter in their career, but this wasn’t enough. He wanted something a bit different.
As part of a group of 25 men, he jumped, feet first, into the Amazon River and began a different kind of challenge. He decided the best way for change, was to enter the Ecuadorian jungle as part of Channel 4’s hit programme SAS: Who Dares Wins.
The 28 year old had been the captain of Wingate & Finchley for nearly a decade, a position he was proud of at a club he loved. He was part of the fabric at Maurice Rebak Stadium and at one point even attended the wedding of a loyal supporter. But it was time for something else.
Whilst watching the first series of the show, which pits normal members of the public against some of the toughest aspects of the Special Forces selection process, he turned to his partner and casually said he’d like to give it a go. She must’ve been keen for him to be thrown into a jungle, as she quickly got him an application form.
“I must have been having a mid-life crisis at 28!” joked the centre back when I met him to discuss his time on the show. “I had to take time off work, but it was the best experience of my life. Jumping off a bridge into a river, not many people can say they’ve done that!”
Once last season finished, Weatherstone backed his bags and headed off for his adventure. Immediately, his leadership skills that had been honed on the pitch came in handy. “At the airport, the whole group started going the wrong way. I piped up saying ‘chaps it’s this way’, I knew then I could lead the group.”
“Being a captain for so long helped in there. There were so many different characters; in football you have the same characters but different personalities. 25 random guys from different backgrounds, similar to any football team. There were times when I got everyone together in there, but at the same time I didn’t want to be overpowering. Whatever I do I try to lead and sometimes you need to lead in the right environment – you gotta know when to do it and when not to. Being a leader helped, if I was shy it would’ve been harder in there.”
The mental strength that comes from wearing a club armband ensured Weatherstone was able to remain focused during one of the toughest tests on the show – the dreaded interrogation room. Here people are dragged into a room to be interviewed by two ex-SAS members, testing their ability to remain calm and composed whilst being mentally probed. For Marc, though, it was his favourite bit….
“I loved it! That was the one thing I wanted to do. I wanted that hood over my head, just to know what it felt like. You’ve gotta have that mind-set that it’s not real. If you start panicking it starts going wrong, same on the football pitch, if you worry things go wrong.”
Having never thought about joining the army when he was younger Weatherstone loved being tested but it wasn’t easy. “It was tough, we were eating small portions, we had no sleep – and if you did sleep you were always worrying about whether they were going to get us. One night they let us sleep all night, we thought it was easy, the next night they woke us up 3 times.”
“The thing that affected me was the wet clothes. You have a dry set of clothes for sleeping then another set that you wore for every activity you do. So when you woke up you had to put the wet clothes on, it was horrible, they never had time to dry.”
A hatred of wet clothes wasn’t the only thing Marc took from the jungle. “Being in there cemented what I knew about myself but I also learnt to trust myself more.”
Upon coming back, Weatherstone left his club of 9 years and joined fellow Ryman Premier League side Dulwich Hamlet for the start of this season. “It was difficult to leave the club, your boys and the fans. It was a massive decision to make but it was the right one.”
“I thought, I’m not getting any younger, do I experience another Non-League club? Too be honest the only Non-League club I would go to was Dulwich because I’d heard good things about them. It’s a big club, massive crowd base and they do things right. It was a new and different challenge; I’ve enjoyed every minute.”
After utilising his leadership qualities in the jungle, he has put them to good use in more familiar surroundings. After a few games into the new season, Hamlet boss Gavin Rose gave Weatherstone the captain’s armband. Since then the club has climbed into promotion contention. “With the squad we have, we should be looking at getting promoted this season and from then who knows.”
Providing Marc doesn’t have to play in wet clothes too often this season, Hamlet should be able to benefit from his SAS experience as the club look to get into the National League South.