Pennant: I had no say in whether I wanted to go to Arsenal or not

Jermaine Pennant interview

What’s life like for a footballer in prison? How close was he to joining Real Madrid? And, come on: is he really a porn star? Your questions answered in December 2018…

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Photography: Richard Cannon

“I have had a good career – I’m not unhappy – but I could’ve done more, I know that. I could have made more of myself and my ability.” This is what Jermaine Pennant allows himself to think in his more reflective moments.  

But he is also very grateful to have enjoyed the career he did, after growing up amid gang wars on a Nottingham council estate with a father he says was a heroin addict and a mother who abandoned him when he was three.

Having survived this scarred start to life, he became Britain’s most expensive teenage footballer in 1999 when Arsene Wenger paid £2 million to take a 15-year-old Pennant to Arsenal.

The young winger would go on to become one of the Premier League’s most exciting, but frustrating, players. He scored a hat-trick on his first start for the Gunners, starred for Liverpool in the 2007 Champions League Final and played for 13 other sides, too, including Leeds, Birmingham, Portsmouth, Stoke, plus clubs in Spain, India and Singapore.

Now he’s sitting down in London with FourFourTwo – and Pennant doesn’t hold back as he answers your candid questions about being hungover for his big Arsenal break, playing prison football and being tapped up by Steven Gerrard...

Jermaine Pennant

What was it like, growing up amid the gang wars on Nottingham’s Meadows estate? Did you fear for your safety?

Zeeshan Hamed, Birmingham

Late one night I walked out of my house, thinking I could hear my dad’s friends on my doorstep. There was a bit of a commotion, so I thought there was a party happening. I walked outside in just a pair of shorts, but then I saw someone shooting at the house opposite – continuous gunshots going off, like fireworks. Car windows were also being smashed in. I was a boy, just a teenager, but in that moment I was scared they could mistake me for an adult and attack me in my house; drag me into the street. That’s probably the scariest moment I had on the Meadows.

Is it true that you were questioned by the police as part of a murder investigation when you were only 14?

Amy Walters, Sheffield

Yes, that is true. I was outside a KFC with some friends, in an area of Nottingham called Radford, when another group from a different area suddenly appeared and shot at us. Someone was shot, two people were stabbed and someone’s head was opened up with a baseball bat. I dived into the KFC and hid behind the counter. When I came back out, everyone had vanished. My friend came to pick me up about 20 minutes later, and soon we learned that a member of the other gang had died, so the police came to question me about that. They came to my house and were a little surprised to find out I was actually still at school.

How did you cope with being sold to Arsenal for £2m, being only 15 then?

Freddie Lamb, London  

It was a bit of shock, but it literally happened overnight and I had no say in whether I wanted to go or stay. No one asked me my thoughts. My dad just arrived at my house with an agent, put me in the back of a Range Rover and drove me down the M1 to London. It was a bit scary, because I was only 15.

Apparently there was an offer from Tottenham, too, but my dad didn’t like George Graham. At the start I was really homesick, I was so young, and so I went back and forth to Nottingham. It was difficult – I had no friends down there. It was strange to get a lot of attention. I just wanted to be normal, but I would get into trouble.