Jordan Stewart interview: Going back to Cali – West Coast livin’ for ex-Premier League man
Left-sider Jordan Stewart played with Leicester City and Watford in the Premier League but you can now find the ex-England Under-21 international in Major League Soccer with San Jose Earthquakes, living a life in the sun that is more than a touch different to a few of his summers gone by.
Following time with eight English clubs and a spell with top-flight Greek side Skoda Xanthi in between, the Birmingham-born full-back / winger headed to the US last July. Signing with MLS side San Jose Earthquakes, Jordan impressed towards the end of the 2013 season and was delighted to take his stay in California into the current campaign.
Fourteen years on from his professional debut as an 18-year-old with Martin O’Neill’s Leicester City in the Premier League, he is feeling right at home with the 2001 and 2003 MLS Cup winners. Jordan made his debut for the Quakes in a 2-1 win over Portland Timbers nine months ago and he certainly seemed to help firm up the defence. He played 12 times in the final run-in and the team conceded only twice in all competitions in the last two months of the season.
Jordan had been with both Notts County and Coventry City in League One back home in 2012/13 and he seized the opportunity to take his career across the Atlantic. He describes his motivations for the move, what has made it so enjoyable so far and also why there was no culture shock when he arrived.
“(It was) a chance for me to play in the MLS. I started seeing a few teams and seeing how they played when (David) Beckham was here but until you come yourself and play in the games you do not know what to expect.
“When it comes to character and people helping each other, I think we have the strongest bonds here at the Earthquakes. I would say even for my career this is one of the happiest times.
“I don’t know whether I am getting older and wiser with things that are happening in soccer but this has been a good part of my career. Off the field, I’m living in the sunshine; I think California suits my lifestyle.
“When I used to live in England, I always used to come to LA in the summer. I have been doing that since the age of 21 so I think California suits me.”
A former Birmingham City School of Excellence player, Jordan was with Aston Villa until he was 16, the age at which he left home. He has made reference previously to the independence he feels that gave him and he drew upon plenty of that when he signed with Skoda Xanthi of Greece in 2010.
He played alongside ex-Netherlands international and Middlesbrough midfielder George Boateng at the club, as well as his former Bristol Rovers, Watford and Derby County teammate, striker Nathan Ellington. Ahead of the move, Jordan had received a phone call from a Greek agent while holidaying in LA and he spent the 2010/11 season learning a new footballing culture at all levels.
He eventually decided to leave after difficulties with receiving pay and it was back to England with Millwall in July 2011. It can often be unexpected twists of fate that determine transfers in the game and the phrase ‘right place at the right time’ can certainly come into the equation. There was an element of the latter for Jordan as his move to MLS can be traced back to a charity game he was playing in with ex-Norwich City favourite Darren Huckerby prior to moving to Notts County.
Ex-Manchester City forward Huckerby had starred for the Earthquakes before his 2009 retirement and he put Jordan in touch with his former Quakes coach Frank Yallop. Jordan spent some weeks training with the team and his move to San Jose eventually came to fruition last summer.
Yallop, now with Chicago Fire, departed the Quakes in June 2013 and was replaced by his one-time assistant and fellow Canadian Mark Watson. General manager John Doyle called up Jordan while he was playing golf in Portugal, reaching an agreement to bring him to the club, and nine months later the move is looking a wise one.
As Jordan has said, he began visiting Los Angeles each summer when he was 21. In the few years leading up to this however, he was in Cyprus annually, at the resort of Ayia Napa. It remains a popular venue to this day but in the 90s and the early 2000s Napa was a place where revellers came from far and wide to take in the party atmosphere.
UK garage was the signature sound and the genre which had emerged from the underground back home was being celebrated in style in southern Cyprus. The UK singles charts were full of garage tracks around the turn of the millennium and any DJ or performer who was anyone could be seen over in Napa.
It was a destination where numerous footballers loved to spend their time at the end of a season and it definitely wasn’t a bad place to let off some steam! Jordan takes it back to his Napa days and recalls a warm-up that won’t be featuring on too many managers’ training plans!
“From the age of 17 up to 21, I would go there every year for two weeks. I remember a ritual we used to do.
“There was a bar called Gasoline Bar, every drink was one separate pound. You had to go in there and buy five shots of sambuca and down five shots of that.
“You would have to buy two piña coladas and down both of those. You would have to down two Sex on the Beaches and that is the start of the night.”
Without UK garage hitting the heights it did, Ayia Napa wouldn’t have been nearly the same. It sparks a lot of nostalgia with those who were part of the scene in one way or another and as this site celebrates with every interview, music in general is just perfect for that. Jordan shares his musical heritage and present-day tastes, giving a look into his family background in the process.
“Growing up, especially going to football games with my dad who is from Jamaica, he would be playing old school music like Beres Hammond, Bob Marley, even people from England like UB40. He would listen to different 80s genres, a bit of Michael Jackson as well.
“He was always listening to Earth Wind & Fire, all of the vinyl. My dad has thousands of vinyl back home.
“Now I listen to everything from house music to r&b and hip-hop, so I have a big variety of music I listen to depending on the mood.”
Queensbridge rapper Nas is responsible for one of the most critically-acclaimed hip-hop albums of all-time – his 1994 debut ‘Illmatic’. His follow-up two years later, ‘It Was Written’, included the first record Jordan ever bought.
“The first CD I bought was Nas and Lauryn Hill’s ‘If I Ruled the World’ and I think I was still in school, so about 12 or 13.”
Following a 6th-place finish in the Western Conference last year, San Jose have started with two draws and a loss in MLS in 2014. The Quakes’ 21-game unbeaten run at home in all competitions came to an end last time out as Lee Nguyen’s 93rd-minute goal secured a 2-1 win for New England Revolution at Buck Shaw Stadium.
There was also a defeat in the quarter-final of the CONCACAF Champions League to Mexican side Toluca. Both games ended 1-1 although the Quakes have every right to feel Alan Gordon’s 96th-minute strike in the second encounter, ruled out for offside, should have stood.
As it was, Toluca were 5-4 winners in the shootout but the Quakes had led 1-0 on the night in Mexico through Ty Harden’s header. He is one of those mentioned as Jordan gives the inside track on the music choices of his teammates – good and bad!
“Justin Morrow (now with Toronto FC) used to be the head of the (locker room) music. This year, Clarence Goodson has had a couple trial runs and they were not bad.
“Jason Hernandez was always playing the old school hip-hop like Biggie (The Notorious B.I.G.). Victor Bernardez put his reggae music on in the changing room and all of the boys starting getting hype.
“The worst taste, I think people are scared to put their music in like Shea (Salinas) and Ty (Harden) because their playlist is full of country music. I went to a country concert when I first got here and it was not for me!”
Joining as a teenager on a three-year scholarship, Jordan went on to play under five full-time Leicester City managers – Martin O’Neill, Peter Taylor, Dave Bassett, Micky Adams and Craig Levein. The Foxes finally sealed their return to the Premier League at the weekend after ten years away and Jordan will remember vividly the last time they were celebrating such an achievement.
In April 2003, ex-Turkey midfielder Muzzy Izzet scored one and set up Jordan for a close-range header as Leicester beat Brighton 2-0 at home. The win sent Micky Adams’ team up to the top flight and current Foxes manager Nigel Pearson is set to lead his side at the top level in 2014/15. Jordan departed the club in 2005 and signed for Watford, where he would win the Championship play-offs before spending a season back in the Premier League in 2006/07.
He ventures back to these two periods in his career and names the players in charge of the playlist in the respective dressing rooms, with a former England international goalkeeper up first.
“At Leicester, it was always the older boys who were in charge of the music, like Tim Flowers, he would always be playing the old kind of stuff. During my time at Leicester, I did not have a say in what music was on.
“When I went to Watford, it was different because there were a lot of new lads. People were putting on whatever.
“(Adrian) Mariappa was mostly in charge and it was mostly hip-hop. I have been at clubs where everyone goes and picks a song and the playlist gets shuffled on match day.”
Defender Adrian Mariappa is now a Jamaican international and it looks likely that his Crystal Palace team will be staying in the Premier League for next season. Jordan, who also had a spell with Sheffield United, includes him in a trio of his ex-Hornets colleagues who liked to show off their vocals on a few occasions.
“I have been around players who thought they could sing, especially at Watford. A few thought they were sweet boys like Mariappa, (Anthony) McNamee, (Jobi) McAnuff.
“They thought they were all pretty boys and thought they could sing! There has never been a player that I have been around where I thought they should be on The X Factor.”
Jordan has given his assessment of the standard of vocals from his fellow pros but what about his own? Lars Frederiksen, guitarist and vocalist of punk band Rancid, wrote a new theme song for the Earthquakes (‘Never Say Die’) to mark their 40th anniversary this year and Jordan was one of the players who went to the studio session to record the track.
This was performed by one of Frederiksen’s other bands, The Old Firm Casuals, and it is not the first time Jordan has stepped on up with the singing.
“When I signed at Millwall, the first player initiation on the first away trip was you had to sing. I remember it was me and Darius Henderson.
“It was the third club we had been at (after Watford and Sheffield United) so we had always roomed together. I remember one of his fears was singing in public so he was rehearsing words in the mirror of what he was going to sing.
“I sang Bob Marley ‘Three Little Birds’. I picked it because I would not forget the words and all of the guys would know the song.
“I remember I went first and I wasn’t that nervous. Once I started singing and the boys started getting involved then it was cool.
“I remember watching Henderson and he was bright red! His mouth started getting dry, but once the boys started getting into it he was fine.”
Off the field, Jordan is co-founder and director of the clothing brand Lescott Stewart alongside former Sheffield Wednesday defender Aaron Lescott and his brother, Manchester City and England centre-back Joleon. On the pitch, he now has plenty of experience to go with the energetic bursts down the left but he surely wouldn’t mind recreating one of his long-range strikes from down the years.
Although it was only last month that he turned 32, Jordan has been around football for long enough and seen a sufficient amount of changes to offer an authentic view on what he has learned from the game. This has become one of my regular questions in the interviews on the site as I look beneath the surface of the player each time. Jordan shows thanks to a former frontman and Leicester teammate (now managing top-tier Norwegian club Sarpsborg) while sharing his own outlook.
“Playing over the last 15 to 16 years, I always used to say my mentor was Brian Deane. When I was younger, he used to tell me what was right from wrong.
“Sometimes, if a manager wouldn’t play me, I would get mad and bang on his door. When you get older, you realise that you may not be playing because of tactical reasons or you think you are playing well when you really aren’t.
“There are always these variables. I got to the stage where I would try and be positive and rub the positivity on the other players.
“I think as you get older you realise that is the key really. Whether you are playing or not playing, you are still a team and you can’t focus on yourself.”
That idea of unity is something Jordan believes he sees strongly in the San Jose Earthquakes squad and over the next few months it will be called upon many times. For the last question, it was up to him to put forward a team of his own, albeit a fantasy selection. The way this one works is for the player to imagine they are in a 5-a-side line-up and to pick four of the best they have ever played alongside to join their team.
Jordan goes for a pair each from the two clubs he turned out for in the Premier League, with his keeper and defender from that play-off-winning and subsequently top-flight Watford team.
“In goal, I would say Ben Foster, just for the simple fact that he is playing now and he is a top goalkeeper. For a midfielder, I would say Muzzy Izzet because of his technical ability.
“For a striker, I would say Paul Dickov. He would score all of the time during 5-a-side, he was nimble as well.
“He was also rash, which a lot of defenders didn’t like. For centre-half, I would probably say Jay DeMerit, because he was a tough tackler.”
Follow me on Twitter: @chris_brookes
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