The big interview: Jermain Defoe – “I regret the way I left West Ham – I did something wrong, hold my hands up and take responsibility"
FourFourTwo has never been so cold. It’s Games of Thrones cold, with each breath vaporizing in the air. We’re up north, but we’re not trudging around Westeros – we’re inside Sunderland’s indoor training facility.
Just as we start to wish that there was a fur-covered Jon Snow to huddle up to, the next best thing bounces in through the door: Jermain Defoe. We tell him an academy goalkeeper is coming to face some of his shots for the photoshoot. “He’s in trouble,” he chirps.
The England international spends the next 10 minutes hitting every corner of the net, but when we tell him it’s time to finish and answer your questions, his precision deserts him. “I can’t end on a miss,” he says after rattling the post. He smacks the next ball into the top corner. “OK, I’m ready...”
Goals are your currency these days, Jermain, but can you remember how much pocket money you used to get?
Ryan Mclure, via Facebook
I used to get £10 for the week. I spent £5.50 on my bus fare and the rest of it went on chips and sweets – that’s why I’ve needed to have five root canals!
CLUBS AND COUNTRY
- 1999-2004 West Ham
- 2000-01 Bournemouth (loan)
- 2004-08 Tottenham
- 2008-09 Portsmouth
- 2009-14 Tottenham
- 2014 Toronto FC
- 2015- Sunderland
- 2004- England
Is it true you were a bit of a dancer in your school days? Do you fancy going on Strictly Come Dancing in the future?
Adam Fields, via Twitter
I competed in street dance competitions with my mate Darren Hart. I remember being really nervous for one as we had to perform in front of all the girls, too. We ended up winning and I’ve still got the medals at my mum’s. I’d never go into the jungle and do I’m a Celebrity... but I’d love to do Strictly Come Dancing.
I’ve read that you were a Gooner as a kid. Please tell me that’s not true...
Alfie Chewl, Brentwood
Absolutely not! My local team was West Ham and I used to go and watch them play when I was younger. The Arsenal connection came from me saying that I loved watching Ian Wright, but I was not an Arsenal fan. I just loved Wrighty.
You’re a natural goalscorer. Did you love scoring when you were a kid?
Alan Noonan, via Facebook
I’ve been obsessed with scoring goals from a very young age – from the time I could walk, really. I always had a ball in the house – my nan would go mad because I used to smash everything. I would put chairs together, throw the ball against the wall and then volley it in between. I did that for hours, but no one ever told me to do it – I just did it.
Do you think leaving Charlton Athletic when you were only 16 set you up for a career of controversial transfers?
Lee Elliott, London
West Ham approached me and it made sense to go and sign for them. I’m an east London boy, I had friends at the club and it was much closer to home. I wanted to be at a club where young players were given the chance to play. It was controversial as West Ham had made an illegal approach and had to pay £1.6m. In my first match for the Hammers’ youth team, there were paparazzi by the pitch. I was thinking, ‘Who are they taking pictures of?’ All that stuff helped me in the long-term.
I watched you playing on loan for Bournemouth during your record goalscoring run. How did a player so young get so confident and clinical?
Wade Crawford, via Facebook
I was too confident. I was playing for West Ham’s under-19s and we used to win every match, and I’d usually score. Before games, the boys would always ask me, “JD, you going to score today?” and I would always reply, “Of course I will score.”
My self-belief came from playing with some good players. Harry Redknapp made me train with the first team so I was playing against people like Rio Ferdinand, which gave me a lot of confidence. When I went out on loan to Bournemouth, I felt ready to step up.
When you first joined up with West Ham, what was it like seeing other English talent such as Rio Ferdinand, Frank Lampard, Michael Carrick and Joe Cole breaking through? Did that help you think you could make it?
Brad Peterson, via Facebook
On Thursdays we used to go to college, but I got kicked out as I didn’t want to be there – I wanted to train
I thought, ‘I want a piece of this.’ Rio, Frank Lampard, Trevor Sinclair and John Moncur always used to mess about with the ball before the manager came out for training. I used to stand there and wait for Harry to say to me, “Train with us today.” He probably thought, ‘I like this kid, he’s confident.’
I was only 17 but I wanted to be with the first team. On Thursdays we used to go to college, but I got kicked out as I didn’t want to be there – I wanted to train. When the rest of the youth team was at college, I was out training with the first team.
There were some big characters in the West Ham side you broke into, like Trevor Sinclair, Paolo Di Canio and Don Hutchison. Did they look after you? Was there an initiation?
Devonte Blackellar, via Twitter
I loved Di Canio. Paolo was a legend with me. He’s someone that I always looked up to – even during our days off he would always be in training on his own. When I scored my first ever Premier League goal against Ipswich, he came off and then gave me the armband. It was just unbelievable. They didn’t make us do an initiation, though they were hard in training.
If you ever gave the ball away, Trevor Sinclair would go mad. As a young lad you would be scared, but it then forced you to raise your game. After training, he would come and put his arm around you and say, “Listen, I am just trying to help you out.”
During 2002/03 a lot of people kept saying that West Ham were too good to go down – was there any complacency among the squad?
Kelly Shephard, Romford
The squad that year was unbelievable, but we left it too late. The first half of the season just wasn’t good enough – we didn’t perform and never recovered. We had a young, talented side with the likes of myself, Michael Carrick and Joe Cole and the team spirit was good, so it was sad knowing that people would be moving on once we went down.
Getting relegated was horrible, but you have to learn from all of these experiences and, as we found out, it doesn’t matter how good you are, if you don’t perform well then you will end up getting relegated.
Do you regret the manner in which you left West Ham? Do you think you were ill-advised handing in a transfer request so soon after the relegation?
Ian James, via Facebook
I would never hand in a transfer request and I would never advise a young lad to do it either
Yes, absolutely. I did something wrong, I hold my hands up about it and take responsibility. I was a young lad back then and didn’t really understand what was going on. When we got relegated, my agent, who was also inexperienced at the time, said, “You need to hand in a transfer request as everybody else is going to leave.” I was young and naive, and all I was really thinking about was wanting to play football.
Would I do the same thing now? No way. I would never hand in a transfer request and I would never advise a young lad to do it, either.