In a Bristol Rovers side back in the Football League after a season away, striker Jermaine Easter is out to dispense as much of his higher-level experience as possible, although there are some aspects that are just destined to always test the mettle, before the pitch even comes into play.
A youth player at Wolverhampton Wanderers, it would be a somewhat gradual process for the Cardiff-born player to rise to the fore, both on and off the field. At 24, the frontman came to the attention during the 2006/07 season as his scoring form was the catalyst in League Two Wycombe Wanderers’ run to the League Cup semi-final, also paving the way for his international career to begin with Wales.
A large proportion of the years since have seen him at Championship level, representing the likes of Crystal Palace and Swansea City on their respective ascents to the Premier League, so his January switch to a Bristol Rovers team hoping to climb back into the Football League may well have surprised a few. A knee injury diminished Jermaine’s participation in the Gas’ promotion, but the 33-year-old has worked his way back to fitness over recent months and has displayed that scoring touch in League Two of late.
A former Hartlepool United teammate of Rovers manager Darrell Clarke, the 12-cap international is undoubtedly a leading figure in the ranks, able to pass on to his counterparts what he has learned from his numerous years in the game. That includes his many encounters with the dreaded singing initiation today’s players often face when they arrive at a new club, but repetition hasn’t increased the comfort for Jermaine in this regard!
“I’ve done it at plenty of clubs and it doesn’t get any easier! I generally go for The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air (theme song).”
Aside from those tension-packed ice-breaking scenarios, there are undeniable nostalgic, soothing and motivational factors that make up Jermaine’s bond with songs and genres, going back to his very earliest days.
“Music plays a huge part; it brings back memories, relaxes me and gets me excited in different moments. I love my music and always have, thanks to my old man who is a huge music lover.
“My mother and father listened to Motown when I was growing up so I’d hear that a lot. My mum loved Aretha Franklin.
“Current artists, I’d say Drake and I also like Fetty Wap. To be fair, I love Frank Sinatra, and I don’t mind Coldplay, Arctic Monkeys as well.”
Still a teenager when he moved to Hartlepool in 2001, Jermaine had spells with Cambridge United (initially on loan), Boston United and Stockport County before his switch to Wycombe in the January 2006 transfer window. His form caught fire the following campaign as he struck 24 goals, including hitting the mark in each round of the League Cup up to and including the semi-final.
With the exception of divisional rivals Notts County in round four, the Chairboys knocked out opposition from a higher division throughout their run in the competition. After the scalp of League One Swansea in the first round, Premier League Fulham, League One Doncaster Rovers and top-flight Charlton Athletic all followed.
Taking on Jose Mourinho’s Chelsea, who were reigning champions of England, Wycombe earned a first-leg draw late on in the semi thanks to Jermaine’s goal as he latched onto Tommy Mooney’s flick to score his 19th of the season and cancel out Wayne Bridge’s opener. Although they were beaten at Stamford Bridge, the likes of Frank Lampard, Ashley Cole, Michael Ballack and Michael Essien had all featured in the Adams Park draw and Jermaine was the tournament’s joint-leading scorer with six, alongside Arsenal’s Júlio Baptista.
One of his fellow scorers in the away win at Swansea was midfielder Stefan Oakes, whose father was a guitarist in the band Showaddywaddy. In one way or another, music has never been too far away at Jermaine’s clubs in his career and he recalls some of those who have stepped forward with the pre-game tracks in the dressing room.
“The one that sticks out is Aaron Wilbraham, who I played with at MK Dons and Palace. (Wilfried) Zaha used to do it a bit at Palace and here at Bristol Rovers it’s Chris Lines.
“He plays stuff like Drake, Fetty Wap, Chris Brown, Tyga. The ‘Fan of a Fan’ (Chris Brown and Tyga) album is a favourite.
“The resident DJ with Wales was probably James Collins; he had an array of music.”
Named in the PFA League Two Team of the Year in 2006/07, as well as winning Wycombe’s Players’ Player of the Year award, Jermaine had been given his first chance with Wales that season after manager John Toshack came to watch him against Chelsea. His opportunities further up the pyramid were soon to come, but at the time he was a League Two player, so when he first met up with his international colleagues he laughed to himself at some of the company he was in, with Ryan Giggs and Craig Bellamy in the squad.
He did, however, remind himself of the self-belief needed and that he belonged there, which is a mindset he will touch upon in greater detail later in this interview. His opponents in the Welsh shirt have included Germany and the Netherlands, with the latter of those match-ups coming in 2014 in Amsterdam as a World Cup warm-up game for the Dutch.
With Wales on the cusp of qualification for Euro 2016, it is Swansea City defender Ashley Williams who has long been wearing the armband. A teammate of Jermaine’s when they played for Stockport, Williams was one of those who made the cut as he was asked which players he would select to record a song cover with, if given his choice of anyone he has ever played with.
“The players I’d choose would be Stefan Oakes, Ashley Williams and Aaron Wilbraham. I’d say it’d be those three and it would probably be something Drake.
“I’d probably just be giving it the side-to-side head movement in the background!”
With 28 goals scored in Wycombe colours, Jermaine got his first taste of Championship football in October 2007 as he moved to Plymouth Argyle on an initial loan. The Pilgrims finished that season just six points from the play-offs, while Jermaine was also involved in Euro 2008 qualifiers with Wales during the campaign.
He was on target six times after Paul Sturrock returned to manage the club, replacing the Leicester City-bound Ian Holloway. The Scottish boss was known to hijack the team’s pre-game playlist with Wheatus’ ‘Teenage Dirtbag’ while at Sheffield Wednesday, but it was a Hungarian international defender who Jermaine recalls most vividly for his less-than-tranquil tunes.
“Generally all the oddballs in the group don’t really get a chance to be heard! Krisztián Timár at Plymouth was into some absolutely horrendous heavy metal.”
After loans at Millwall and Colchester United, Jermaine left Plymouth permanently to link up with former England captain Paul Ince, as he made him his second signing upon his return as MK Dons manager. He would prove that decision to be an extremely wise one as he came up with 19 goals in his debut season in Milton Keynes.
Several names notable for their time at the top level have turned out for the club in recent years, including Tore Andre Flo, Dietmar Hamann, Jimmy Bullard and Alan Smith. A London-born Scottish international midfielder was one of those who played alongside Jermaine while on loan from West Ham United, and although he contributed a couple of goals he was rather more wayward with his initiation song.
“The worst I’ve ever come across was Nigel Quashie at MK Dons. I think it was a dance or rap song, I don’t remember exactly which one but I literally felt embarrassed for him!”
As he made reference to earlier, Jermaine has got his tried and trusted Fresh Prince formula when the situation calls for him to step up in front of a new set of teammates. However, if he was to ever deviate from those familiar Will Smith verses, the first song he ever bought is one with similar nostalgic 90s value, and no matter how much novelty might be packed into it (backward-worn clothing included!), the track would surely be a guaranteed crowd-pleaser!
“The first one I ever bought was Kris Kross ‘Jump’ when I was about ten.”
In November 2010, Jermaine took the opportunity of a return to the second tier as he joined Brendan Rodgers’ Swansea City on loan. His time back in South Wales might have been relatively brief, but he scored the only goal to beat Barnsley at The Liberty Stadium in a campaign which ended with the Swans winning promotion to the Premier League, where they have since prospered tremendously.
Jermaine would actually spend the second half of 2010/11 with Crystal Palace after signing a full deal with the Selhurst Park side. Among the highlights of his time with the Eagles was the extra-time win over Manchester United in the League Cup quarter-final, a game he started with 52,624 in attendance to see Darren Ambrose’s 35-yard stunner and Glenn Murray’s eventual winner.
There was also the resulting semi-final with his hometown club Cardiff, although Palace were beaten on penalties after two legs. South London had a happy moment waiting in store for Jermaine as he moved on loan to former club Millwall in March 2013 and scored with his first touch to help secure a 2-0 victory away to Charlton in the derby. It was a slightly more satisfying day than his first appearance for the club in September 2008, when he struck another debut goal but also received a late red card in the win at Swindon.
His Millwall switch was made permanent in summer 2013 and he still had his part to play with Wales, appearing in their World Cup qualifying campaign. Boxing Day last year would transpire to be his last match for the club, and although the Lions were beaten 6-1 by promotion-bound Norwich he did get to mark his farewell with their solitary goal.
In January, his one-time Hartlepool colleague Darrell Clarke set about bringing him to Bristol Rovers and the former Mansfield Town midfielder was successful in his pursuit. Jermaine netted in the win over Aldershot but injury restricted him to just five games as the Gas chased promotion to League Two in their first season out of the Football League in 94 years.
The frustration was considerable for him, although the team were able to overcome the disappointment of missing out on an automatic place by seeing off Forest Green Rovers in the play-off semi-final, before edging past Grimsby on penalties in the final at Wembley. The success meant Rovers became the first side in a decade to seal an instant return to League Two and Jermaine set his mind to making his own return, cutting down his summer to work on his fitness at the club.
The post-season weeks are usually filled with relaxation and release for players as they head off for holiday destinations and the like. His 2015 break might not have fitted that description but Jermaine has an idea for something to tick off the list in a future summer.
“I’d love to go to Glastonbury one year, but that’ll probably have to be when I finish playing. It’s generally concerts I go to rather than festivals and Rihanna was probably the best one I’ve been to.”
As much as those who have shared the field on his side through the years remain in the memory for Jermaine, so too do some of the players he has battled against. Bristol Rovers are the current beneficiaries of his experience in leading the line and that kind of nous may just prove pivotal in the months that lie ahead.
Back in January 2008, his Plymouth team headed to Harry Redknapp’s top-flight Portsmouth for a fourth-round FA Cup tie. Pompey would lift the trophy that year, although they had to come from behind to see off Argyle on this occasion, with Chris Clark giving them the lead before Lassana Diarra and Niko Kranjcar turned it around.
Jermaine was one of those to force England keeper David James into impressive stops on the day and he also remembers a certain Frenchman who gave him a firsthand insight into why he still remains in the Premier League (now with Bournemouth) at 37 years old.
“Probably the most difficult (opponent) was Sylvain Distin when I played for Plymouth against Portsmouth. He didn’t give it anything in terms of banter but he was just so quick and so strong.”
When Jermaine first took to the field for his country it was at Northern Ireland’s Windsor Park in February 2007. He featured along with the likes of Craig Bellamy and Jason Koumas, while a 17-year-old Gareth Bale had to settle for staying on the bench!
As he thought back to the managers who have made the strongest impressions on him over his career he had a word for current Wales boss Chris Coleman who may well be celebrating leading Wales to Euro 2016 this coming Saturday (October 10th) in Bosnia-Herzegovina.
“I enjoyed my time with Paul Lambert at Wycombe; I scored a lot of goals. For tactics and getting the lads working together as a group Brendan Rodgers was brilliant.
“Chris Coleman – the lads love him and you can see that with how they’re doing. For Wales to be in the top ten in the world, it’s never been heard of.”
The professional approach Jermaine has shown since he joined Rovers has not gone unnoticed by those he is working with. Having someone around who has reached higher echelons in the game and sustained a career that can so easily disintegrate in the modern environment is of huge benefit to the younger players, so does the idea of coaching one day appeal?
“I’ve done my UEFA B (Licence), a couple of years ago, and I’m going to do my A Licence in the summer. I’ve got my agency, WMG, so I’ll be going down that route when I stop playing; it’s more that I’m doing my coaching as a back-up.
“I’ve just started getting a property portfolio together so that’s something to keep me busy. It’s something that provides a future and I’ve got a few properties in Cardiff.”
The results have been positive for Bristol Rovers of late, with the weekend’s 4-3 win away to Morecambe sending them into the top half of League Two. Jermaine scored in the 3-0 win at his old club Hartlepool last Tuesday (September 29th) and has also been on the mark in front of his home supporters, with a goal in the 2-1 loss to Portsmouth and in the 3-1 win over Barnet.
In the first round of the League Cup back in August, he was the one to wear the captain’s armband as Championship Birmingham City were the visitors to the Memorial Stadium. With his experience of the division, Jermaine is set on doing all he can to keep the Gas in the winning habit in League Two and from a personal perspective he has been steadily moving along as the weeks have progressed.
“I had a knee operation at the end of last season so the start of this one has been my pre-season really. I think I’ve been getting there with every game that goes by.”
As people have seen him play his part in the journeys of various clubs, Jermaine has been exposed to successes as well as the more testing points. Given the commitment and sacrifice it demands, it is understandable just how much a life in football can shape a person, and with years still to give to the game, Jermaine is able to identify how the sport has altered his outlook over time.
“The most you learn is when it’s not going well. I left Wolves when I was 19 and moved to Hartlepool, miles away from my family.
“I didn’t have a great time football-wise but I learned a lot from it. I think you also learn to show people respect, but at the same time not too much respect.
“I wasn’t the most confident when I was younger and it took me a while to get going in that respect. Looking back, I think instead of waiting until I was 23/24 to get going with stuff I’d just have a bit more belief in myself.”
With over a century of career goals on his record, Jermaine has a good idea by now of what he needs in those around him; from the ones who can protect his team at the back, to the players to help supply and link up with him at the other end. With that in mind, let’s hand it over to him to wrap this one up as he takes on the question that has been put to players from around the world on here in recent years.
The idea is for the interviewee to picture their own 5-a-side team and to select four of their career teammates to line up next to them. Many have chosen to answer this by thinking along the lines of ability alone, and while each of Jermaine’s choices undoubtedly have that, he opted to also put together a group filled with character.
“I’ll pick a team that’s a good set of lads. In goal, Stephen Bywater, who I was with at Millwall – great lad and funny as hell.
“Defender, Ashley Williams – he’s a good friend of mine and he makes me laugh every time I’m with him. For another striker, I’ll choose Jamie Mackie – he’s my best mate in football.
“We lived together when we were at Plymouth and he’s just an unbelievable pro. Jamie will be the first to admit he’s maybe not the greatest technically, but I’ve never met anyone like him for doing the extras to maximise his ability.
“For the last one, I’ll go with Jason Puncheon. I was with him at MK Dons and Plymouth and he can create, he can score and he’s a great lad as well.”
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