GOING UP? BEATING THE DROP WAS EVEN BETTER
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...
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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!
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!
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
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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