GO­ING UP? BEAT­ING THE DROP WAS EVEN BET­TER

The Football League Paper - - CHAMPIONSHIP - By John Lyons

JA­SON Roberts had a highly suc­cess­ful ca­reer that took him from Non-League to the Pre­mier League, he was trans­ferred in big money moves, he scored over 150 goals in more than 500 games.

Yet his pro­file is ar­guably greater than ever now through his me­dia work as a pun­dit for the BBC and his out­spo­ken views on racism in foot­ball. He’s also got his own foun­da­tion, which fo­cuses on foot­ball-based so­cial in­clu­sion projects. He was awarded an MBE for ser­vices to sport in 2009.

But don’t for­get the foot­ball. A Gre­nada in­ter­na­tional, Roberts won pro­mo­tion with West Brom, Wi­gan and Read­ing in a se­nior ca­reer than spanned al­most two decades.

He scored the last-gasp goal for Wi­gan to knock out Ar­se­nal in the League Cup semi-fi­nal at High­bury in 2006 and also net­ted in an FA Cup semi-fi­nal for Black­burn against Chelsea in 2007.

Here, the nephew of for­mer Eng­land striker Cyrille Regis re­calls his jour­ney from Hayes to the Pre­mier League – and Jimmy Bullard be­ing wheeled around in a laun­dry bas­ket with pants on his head...

FIRST CLUB

I got re­leased from Chelsea when I was 16 and I missed out on the YTS. I fell out of foot­ball for a year and got a job as an ex­ports clerk and went to col­lege. I didn’t play any foot­ball at all. And then my un­cle Cyrille Regis called Alan Christo­pher, who was the re­serve team manager at Hayes, and I started play­ing for the youth team and re­serves.

The re­serve foot­ball was men’s foot­ball so it was chal­leng­ing for me. We trained twice a week af­ter work and I played on the left wing for the re­serves. I played up front for the first time for the youth team – Alan put me up there. For the re­serves, I was still grow­ing into my body so I still op­er­ated on the left wing.

Hayes boss Terry Brown then put me up front for a few games to­wards the end of the first sea­son I was there and I scored a few goals. That sum­mer I trained ev­ery day on my own and came back very strong.

I was in the first team and I scored a hat­trick against Brent­ford in pre­sea­son.

I played the first seven or eight games of the sea­son for Hayes and scored a lot of goals – and then there was a lot of in­ter­est from lots of clubs, es­pe­cially Ar­se­nal and West Ham – and Brent­ford af­ter that game.

How­ever, Wolves and Sun­der­land of­fered a quar­ter of a mil­lion, which equalled the Non-League record at the time, and I plumped for Wolves.

I joined Wolves about ten games in – and it was to­tal ad­just­ment for me to be­come a pro­fes­sional player, train­ing at that in­ten­sity, the de­mands of be­ing a pro­fes­sional player, like mov­ing away from home, ac­tu­ally hav­ing some money.

My par­tic­u­lar thing was try­ing to play like a pro­fes­sional player – team-mate Keith Curle pulled me one day and said, “Just do what got you here. Don’t try and be like any­one else”.

I didn’t play for Wolves at all – I went on loan to Torquay and scored six goals in 12 games. I was then re­called by Wolves.

BEST MANAGER

For a player who came up through the di­vi­sions, it’s very hard to iden­tify who was the best manager be­cause ev­ery manager was at a dif­fer­ent stage of my devel­op­ment as a foot­baller – Non-League, Di­vi­sion Two, One, Cham­pi­onship, Pre­mier.The manager who had the big­gest im­pact on my ca­reer was Ian Holloway be­cause I feel I im­proved as a player the most at Bris­tol Rovers. I came in at one level and left at an­other through the coach­ing of Ollie and his back-room staff, Gary Pen­rice and Garry Thomp­son.

BEST TEAM-MATE

Nathan Elling­ton. Un­be­known to me when I met him, we had gone to the same sec­ondary school. I took him un­der my wing and we worked a lot to­gether at Bris­tol Rovers, even though we didn’t play to­gether that of­ten. We re­mained close and our part­ner­ship at Wi­gan was the most en­joy­able strike part­ner­ship of my ca­reer. We scored 50-odd goals in our pro­mo­tion cam­paign to­gether. He’s

like a lit­tle brother to me.

FIRST

PRO­MO­TION

West Brom to the Pre­mier League in 2001-02. I was in­jured for the ma­jor­ity of the sea­son but I scored six goals in 12 games in be­tween break­ing my metatarsal three times.

I felt so proud of my team-mates that we were able to re­turn West Brom to the top level. It was a real spring­board in help­ing WBA be where they are to­day and that gives me great pride.

FUN­NI­EST PLAYER

Jimmy Bullard – we were to­gether at Wi­gan. He has a crazy sense of hu­mour which wasn’t only limited to the dress­ing room. On the train­ing pitch he would con­stantly be look­ing for ways to en­ter­tain.

So­cially, he would do any­thing for a laugh - and I mean any­thing – and he would also joke about on the pitch. In the League Cup semi-fi­nal against Ar­se­nal when the lights went out, he ran up­field with the ball in the dark­ness and stood alone on the goalline – and also checked if Fred­die Ljung­berg was wear­ing the Armani un­der­wear he ad­ver­tised!

FUNNNIEST IN­CI­DENT

We had a tra­di­tion on Fri­days at Wi­gan where Jimmy Bullard would get into the laun­dry bas­ket and we would wheel him around the dress­ing room with pants on his head. It doesn’t sound funny when you say it out loud now but, trust me, at the time we laughed a lot.

BIG­GEST ACHIEVE­MENT

On the pitch I was pro­moted to the Pre­mier League three times - but the big­gest achieve­ment was prob­a­bly keep­ing Black­burn up on the last day at Wolves.

We had a team which shouldn’t

have been in that po­si­tion and it feels dif­fer­ent to lose some­thing than it does to win some­thing. The pres­sure go­ing into that game was one I’d never ex­pe­ri­enced be­fore.

It was huge, so for us to win 3-2, for me to score and for Wolves to also stay up on the last day of the sea­son was im­mense.

LOW­EST MO­MENT

How I re­tired – not be­ing able to re­turn from my long-term hip in­jury, the frus­tra­tion of not be­ing able to play when all I wanted to do was get back onto the pitch and help Read­ing as I had the sea­son be­fore to pro­mo­tion.

TOUGH­EST PLACE TO GO

Some­where where you never win – and I never won at Old Traf­ford.

When I first got to the Pre­mier League, ev­ery­one al­ways asked what it was like to play at the big­ger sta­di­ums and I re­alised quite quickly it felt ter­ri­ble to go to a big sta­dium and lose.

There were no pos­i­tives to take from go­ing to th­ese places, it was just los­ing to an­other eleven peo­ple!

TOUGH­EST OP­PO­NENT

Rio Fer­di­nand. Be­cause of Manch­ester United’s style, he had to de­fend one v one for long pe­ri­ods.

Other de­fend­ers had to pro­tect them­selves be­cause they weren’t the quick­est or the most com­plete, but he could deal with ev­ery­thing – phys­i­cally and men­tally.

Rio al­lowed ev­ery­one else to go and attack, which made Man United such a good team. There was no space for him to make a mis­take – and he rarely did. He was so com­fort­able on the ball and could launch at­tacks, too.

FAVOURITE PLACE TO GO

New­cas­tle – St James’ Park. Huge at­mos­phere, loud.You can feel the ex­pec­ta­tion from the fans, it feels like an event ev­ery time you go there. I al­most al­ways won and scored – which helps!

AM­BI­TION

To con­tinue my me­dia work. I would also like to use my cor­po­rate gov­er­nance qual­i­fi­ca­tion through the On Board course which I helped to es­tab­lish two years ago to the ben­e­fit of foot­ball.

Part of that is to work through my char­ity, The Ja­son Roberts Foun­da­tion, which I’m con­tin­u­ing to build and grow.We of­fer a sport­ing chance, sup­port­ing youth, cel­e­brat­ing di­ver­sity and pro­mot­ing re­spect.

Best manager: Ian Holloway Fun­ni­est player: Jimmy Bullard

Best team-mate: Nathan Elling­ton

Tough­est place to go: Old Traf­ford

PIC­TURE: Ac­tion Images

UN­DER PRES­SURE: Ja­son Roberts, in his Black­burn days, tries to hold off his tough­est op­po­nent, Manch­ester United’s Rio Fer­di­nand Am­bi­tion: ca­reer in the me­dia Favourite place to go: St James’ Park

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