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Simeon Jackson interview: Canada striker sketching the game and groove theories

 

Barnsley striker Simeon Jackson’s footballing canvas has been colourised by promotions, Premier League, Bundesliga and international football, with an even more diverse musical backbeat running alongside him on what has so far proved a road of experiences and introspection.

Jamaican-born and Canadian-raised, it was Simeon’s relocation to England as a 15-year-old which ultimately led him into the professional game. Grabbing the attention for his scoring touch and promise with the now-defunct Rushden & Diamonds, he earned a move to Gillingham, with whom he would grasp the Wembley limelight as a play-off final goal hero.

His magnificent late-season form was pivotal in pushing Norwich City over the finish line to Premier League promotion in 2010/11, opening the door for him to sample life at the top level with the Canaries. It is an opportunity relatively few of his Canadian compatriots have been exposed to, and with a spell in the Bundesliga at Eintracht Braunschweig ahead of a return to English football in 2014, he is endeavouring to draw upon the understanding that background has provided him with while at current club Barnsley.

At 28, he is far from what could genuinely be deemed veteran status, yet able to already look back on a career with more than its share of intrigue. Stepping off the ever-spinning wheel that is modern football for just a moment to reflect, the Kingston-born forward allowed a look into how his thinking has shifted in recent times.

“Football’s been my life from a young age but you get to a point and realise it’s almost not even real. You realise it’s going to come to an end and you think, ‘what am I gonna do?’

“I think you’re privileged to learn the life lessons you do from football.”

The public of the beautiful game – and sometimes much wider than that – get to frequently see the on-field competitor. No matter what their specific position of interest may be they cheer them on, berate, or empathise in times of struggle, and at best, share the incredibly addictive rush of celebration with them. Often there are many other unseen sides to that person they become accustomed to viewing exclusively in the role of the footballer.

The 2009 Canadian Player of the Year, Simeon has an in-depth bond with music and it has interwoven with the various stages of his life in different countries, continents and settings.

“Music’s massive; it gets you going, gets you feeling good. It’s all in the tunes.

“I listen to a lot of different music, but mostly r&b/rap, and also reggae and bashment. Then I’ll also get into house, pop and Afrobeats.

“With hip-hop, I listen to people like Drake, Kendrick Lamar, Kanye West, J. Cole.”

Three years old when he moved to Mississauga in Southern Ontario, Simeon lived with his Aunt Joan and late Uncle Norman. His uncle had a big impact, coaching him before he went to Mississauga Falcons and making sure he was in attendance to see him play in Toronto as he represented Canada in the FIFA Under-20 World Cup.

Growing up, Simeon loved hockey but his aunt signed him and his cousin, Norman Jr. up to play soccer as it was cheaper and had less travelling. Perhaps there is an irony that the more convenient option became something he would make big sacrifices for in years to come.

In addition to the support in other ways, Simeon also took in the musical influences that surrounded him when he was particularly young.

“My uncle would play like heavy rap, but then also good classic stuff like Bob Marley and Marvin Gaye. I was born in Jamaica and I’ve been there for a few summers.

“I’ve seen I-Octane perform live over there; he gets me going.”

While still in Canada, Simeon was asked by a scout to attend a trial with some others at Coventry City. Although he injured his ankle shortly before he still made the trip and at 15 he moved to Croydon to pursue his professional ambition.

His early days in South London just about coincided with the era in which an underground genre of music had risen to wider attention. As well as Ayia Napa and other party destinations abroad, it undoubtedly held a lot of popularity in the capital, as Simeon found.

“When I came over here I got into UK garage. I first heard it and I’m like, ‘the hell’s this?!’

“The first CD I listened to was Green Day when I was back in Canada. It was an album and the cover was like a big explosion (‘Dookie’).

“I think the first album I bought was Biggie (The Notorious B.I.G.) ’Life After Death.’“

Simeon’s break in the Football League eventually arrived with Rushden & Diamonds in 2004. Still just 17 when he signed, he struck five goals in 14 games in the opening months of 2006, although the Nene Park club were unable to stave off relegation from League Two.

He stepped up with 19 goals in the Conference the following season and had already scored 18 in 2007/08 by the time Gillingham gave him the chance to move up two divisions. Rushden & Diamonds had made headlines on their way up through the leagues, reaching the third tier in 2003, but were dissolved in 2011 after unassailable financial trouble.

Nevertheless, the Northamptonshire side were Simeon’s first pro club and aside from giving him the platform to shine he had another new musical experience while he was there. It was all the way back in 2011 when Scottish midfielder Manny Panther singled out one of his Aldershot counterparts on here for his raucous track choices and Simeon picked out the very same player when asked about teammates with different or unusual music taste in his career.

“The only one really was when I first came into the professional game at Rushden & Diamonds – the goalkeeper, Jamie Young. He’s from Australia and he had headphones on before a game so I wondered what he was listening to.

“It was just pure heavy metal noise. I thought, ‘He’s ready to kill someone!’”

In May 2009, Simeon delivered one of his most euphoric moments in the game to date as he notched his 21st of the season to win the League Two play-off final for Gillingham against Shrewsbury Town. Soon after that Wembley success he made his first appearance for Canada at senior level, scoring the winner in an away match with Cyprus to round off his terrific season.

After hitting a further 17 goals (14 in League One) for the Gills in 2009/10 he stepped up another level with Norwich on their return to the Championship. Heading into 2011 he had scored four in the league but his form exploded from April 2nd onwards.

Simeon’s run began with a hat-trick in the 6-0 win over Scunthorpe United and he would end the campaign with 13 in total. Striking in the memorable 5-1 East Anglia derby thrashing of arch rivals Ipswich Town at Portman Road, he came up with a crucial hat-trick to see off Derby County, with the winner coming in stoppage time to keep the Canaries ahead of Cardiff in the promotion race and spark frenzied celebrations at Carrow Road.

The crowning moment came at Portsmouth as Simeon’s goal clinched back-to-back promotions for the club and a return to the top flight after six years away. His header from David Fox’s cross was his ninth in seven games and it came in front of the away fans who’d made the journey to the south coast.

Simeon recalls how music set the tone for the team back then, even though it wasn’t one of the players who was running the rule over the playlist.

“At Norwich, it was actually the kitman who had a nice little mix from a DJ and he’d play it every game. When you go on a winning run and you’ve got a good playlist that works it’s one of those small things that you enjoy and it makes a difference.”

 

 

Football and music share a lot of characteristics, with some much less obvious than others. North Carolina rapper J. Cole moved away to St. John’s University in New York City as a springboard to help him get his break in music, ultimately getting signed by Jay-Z after much persistence.

Simeon knows all about making a leap of faith to chase his ambition, and J. Cole, who has sold over two million albums since his debut studio release in 2011, was an artist he saw perform in a setting quite removed from the huge arenas he has gone on to sell out in more recent times.

“I’ve seen Kanye and Jay-Z live, Rick Ross, Beyonce was amazing. I saw J. Cole in Norwich at like a university venue (The Waterfront in November 2011).

“He had some good listens but mainly ones where you’d be listening to the song instead of going crazy, so that was a different kind of vibe. He’s deep, he’s sick.”

One of the players in the Canadian national team with noteworthy European experience is captain Julian de Guzman. The midfielder represented Spain’s Deportivo La Coruña and German side Hannover 96 and he has been on hand to give Simeon advice when needed, as well as impressing his compatriot in another way.

“For me, it’s wicked with the national team because the tracks are bumping and it sets a tone. Julian de Guzman is probably the one that stands out for music.

“He’s on his MacBook and everything is organised; his iTunes is beautiful!”

Debuting in the country’s youth program as a teenager, Simeon has found a way to keep that national pride going upon arrival at some of his clubs in England, even if he did it through a less than typical Canadian voice!

“At Norwich, I did Snow ‘Informer’ and I did it again at Millwall. It went down well because it’s not one you’d expect.

“I also sang ‘I Believe I Can Fly’ (R. Kelly) once. I’d rather just take the fine!

“I’ve dodged it the last couple of times; my singing days are done!”

After his spell with Millwall in the latter months of 2013/14, Simeon spent last season with Coventry in League One, scoring three goals. Two of his former Sky Blues colleagues got his stamp of approval as he identified the teammates he would recruit if he was to ever record a track of his own.

“I’d probably choose some of the boys from when I was at Coventry because we used to spit some bars in the dressing room. Blair Turgott, Frank Nouble, and I’d throw Marcus Haber (Canada teammate) in there because he’s sick with the freestyle.”

That particular trio is an example of players who try to showcase some quick thinking and vocal capabilities…and then there was the initiation served up by one of Simeon’s Norwich teammates.

“Kyle Naughton was horrendous! He thought he was going to get away with singing ‘Old MacDonald.’”

In early September, Simeon signed a deal with Barnsley until January 3rd, with the objective of doing his part to push the Reds into the upper reaches of League One. He made his debut in the 4-1 win against Swindon on September 12th and has appeared four times in total.

While aiming to get a consistent run in Lee Johnson’s team he is holding back on sharing his tempo-raising tunes with the team on match day, for the moment at least!

“There’s everything in there, people will put their one or two tunes on and it’s a good mix. I haven’t been the DJ yet; I don’t want to scare them off by going too hard with Meek (Mill) or someone like that!”

On the career side, Simeon’s spell in South Yorkshire is a chance to have a positive impact on those around him and to give himself an opportunity to recapture some form. It is also the furthest north he has been based with a club side and that has meant being a lot closer to certain people.

“It’s been great. I’ve got family in Sheffield; my mum lives here and it’s the first time I’ve been with a club up here.

“It was funny how it started, with the manager allowing me to come and train for a few days. I then obviously signed and it’s a great, talented squad.”

In his final two seasons with Norwich, Simeon had faced increased competition for places in the top flight, although he did write his name into the Premier League scoring charts on five occasions, with three others coming in the cups. After leaving the club he decided to seek entirely new surroundings in July 2013, joining Eintracht Braunschweig for their first season back at Germany’s top level in 28 years.

Playing in games against Dortmund and Bayern, his teammates at the club included midfielder Karim Bellarabi, who has since gone on to become a full German international and a starter with Bayer Leverkusen. Simeon would move to the Championship with Millwall – where he scored two goals in a brief stint – in February 2014, but there is definite fondness when he recalls being in Germany.

“It was one of the best experiences I’ve had. To go and play where it’s really different and structured in a really serious way; it’s no mistake why Germany do as well as they do in tournaments.

“The work in every single department is incredible. It was a great experience in life in general, to be in a different country.

“It was obviously really challenging with a different language but I picked up the German words I needed.”

Following his 2009 debut, Simeon has been named in four CONCACAF Gold Cup squads for Canada, with the most recent coming this year. He appeared for Benito Floro’s side in the 1-1 draw with Ghana in Washington this month and he has noticed a changing landscape in the years that have passed since he first pulled on the red shirt at senior level.

“It’s definitely been a huge transition since I first came in. There used to be no real expectations for us to go and beat teams.

“Since the launch of the Canadian MLS teams the awareness has grown. It’s still in the early stages but there’s been a massive development.

“Young kids can go and play for a professional club in Canada now. People used to say, ‘Oh, we didn’t know Canada had a national team.’”

 

A team walk with the Canadian national side.

A team walk with the Canadian national side.

 

As he made reference to earlier, Simeon’s experiences in football have provided him with plenty of cause for introspection and he describes an interest away from playing, as well as some of his thoughts looking forward at what years to come may hold for him.

“I’m into a lot of spiritual energy stuff; most of it’s just watching stuff on YouTube! At 28, you start to think about what you’re going to do after playing.

“I’m not too sure about managing or coaching; that’s not something that has a huge appeal to me at this point.”

Lessons learned in time are fundamental to football and life. It is not possible to fully grasp them without going through the experiences for yourself, so what if Simeon could go all the way back to when he was just starting out in the game to offer some advice to his younger self, equipped with the knowledge he now has?

“To be honest, I would say, ‘Do not listen to anyone apart from yourself, just do what you feel is right.’ You can get swayed sometimes and in the end it’s just what works for you that matters.

“I’d also probably tell myself, ‘Just pull your finger out, because it doesn’t last forever!’”

A little more seasoned than he once was, but a whole lot wiser, Simeon can add a fair amount more to his footballing story yet. In the meantime, it is over to him to draw this one to a close with a fantasy selection of some of those he was worked alongside in his career to date.

This is the concluding question for each interview on here and the idea is for the player to picture being in a 5-a-side game, in which they get to choose the other four members of their team. Simeon kicks off his rundown with a goalkeeping teammate from his youth national team days, although he quickly decided to change his mind and go all outfield in this game!

“I need a ball-playing keeper…who’s that gonna be? Asmir Begovic…but I don’t see him in 5-a-side…let’s come back to that.

“I just want an exciting team, so I’m not going to have a keeper. David Edgar (defender) – he’s skilful, he’d pull some Cruyffs; he should be a midfielder.

“I’d take Omar Elabdellaoui (full-back/midfielder), who I was with at Braunschweig, now at Olympiakos. He’s skilful, quick and strong.

“Wes Hoolahan is a magician. He’s the best 5-a-side player I’ve seen; awareness, close control.

“The striker I’ve most enjoyed playing alongside is Grant Holt. He beats people up and I just run around him!

“For some reason I’m thinking Chris Martin. He’s just funny; he’ll call ‘megs’ on people.

“I’ll put Dan Crowley (Arsenal midfielder on loan at Barnsley) in there. He’s talented and he wants to beat players; he’s like a kid in a schoolyard.

“So the four would be: David Edgar, Omar Elabdellaoui, Wes Hoolahan, Dan Crowley.”

To catch each of these interviews, you can follow me: @chris_brookes

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