Now captain of Hemel Hempstead Town and working full-time as a coach, Jordan spoke to Watford Legends in 2018.
I started off as a 7 or 8 year old, went along to the Watford holiday course, progressed through their centre of excellence system and got a trial at u9, and ended up having a longer trial than what you’re meant to. I think you’re meant to have a six week trial, it ended up being nearly two years to u11, and from then I was in the academy system. So from then all the way through until when I left when I was 20.
You made your first appearance for the 1st team while still in the Academy – a League Cup tie against Accrington Stanley. What do you remember about the game?
I remember being 17, I was still a scholar and wasn’t on a professional contract. I’d been in and around the squad quite a bit. Aidy Boothroyd had involved me since I was 16, I’d trained with the first team a lot. When it came to the Carling Cup, he gave me a chance to play. I think it was the year we were in the Premier League.
I remember being really excited. I was full of confidence at the time, playing well and felt good. I just wanted an opportunity to play really and show what I could do. I remember feeling good and playing well in that game and then obviously it went to penalties. I remember feeling confident and then Aidy said “you’re on the fifth penalty”. So as a 17 year old, I was a bit shocked he’d given me that responsibility. It was only afterwards that I found out he was testing to see if I had the bravery and confidence to take it, and luckily it went in.
I take penalties now, it’s always something I’ve been fairly confident in. I’ve always felt I can strike the ball well. I remember having a couple of tries beforehand, I think it was the day before. Somebody said you’d better have a couple of penalties in case it goes to the shootout. I was thinking nothing of it and put them top left and thought that’s where I’m going to go and stuck with it on the day and it went in.
Yeah, I was involved that year I made my debut and then I didn’t feature, I was only 17 and was offered a professional contract. I remember being called up to the England Youth set-up at u18s, and then the following year I was called up to the u19s and I broke my metartasal in training and from there a bit of recovery back.
Aidy was still in charge and said it would be good to out on loan that season and get some games. I went out to Brentford, and they were on a really good run and I went there as a squad player and made a couple of appearances from the bench as the side was fairly settled.
I came back from that loan and then went out pretty much straight away on loan to Barnet for the rest of the season. As an 18 year old playing in League Two it was good, we went on a little surge and just missed out on the play-offs that year. It was a great experience to go out and play mens football, that’s what it’s all about really.
Your league debut was a home game with Ipswich in 2008. You were up against a young Jonathan Walters who was a decent player at that level. That must have been a tough start!
I remember the game was live on Sky, it was my league debut and it was a big occasion. It probably got the better of me a bit, I didn’t perform particularly well. Although the majority of the play down my side was big, diagonal balls on to Jonathan Walters who is obviously very good in the air, and me being a five foot nine, small full-back, they targeted the aerial side of things.
I remember him turning to me at one point and just said to me “I’m going to make your life hell today” and thinking here we go, first taste of Championship football!
I remember the game being very direct and aimed towards the left-back area. We went 1-0 down, and Aidy made a decision to move it around and move Jon Harley to left-back, bought John-Joe O’Toole on and we ended up going on to win the game 2-1. I came away from the game thinking I didn’t really get a chance to show what I could do there, but it’s football, that’s what happens, they targeted an area of my game that wasn’t my strongest part.
I was pleased to make my league debut but obviously in terms of not playing the full game, I was disappointed when I got home. The main thing was the team got the win so it was obviously the right decision to make.
Around that time, you got into the England u20s. That must have been exciting.
Yeah definitely. It was playing with some of the best players in the country at my age group.
I think when I went away with the u20s, there were only two of us that weren’t playing for Premier League teams. Everyone else was playing for Premier League sides, not necessarily in their first teams but it was just myself and Sam Baldock at MK Dons, we were the only two that weren’t from top Premier League academies.
That was a fantastic experience being out in Egypt for the u20 World Cup. It was massive occasion, we were playing in front of 40,000 people out there, an unbelievable experience.
You remained at the club until the end of the following season. Were you disappointed not to get many other opportunities?
After the Ipswich game, I played then in the Carling Cup a few weeks later against West Ham, and we won 1-0. We played our second string side against a very strong West Ham side who were in the top league at the time. I remember playing well and feeling good and nearly scored as well.
After that was when Aidy got the sack and Malky took over as caretaker and didn’t involve me in the next fixture which I was a bit disappointed at because really we were playing the second string side in the League Cup. I felt that after my performance against West Ham, I felt like I deserved to play against Swansea in the next round but I wasn’t involved.
Then Brendan Rodgers came in and that was really good, a totally different style of management and he involved me in and around the squad but again, I was on the bench a few times but didn’t make any appearances.
Then when Malky took over as the full-time manager, he said to me that I wasn’t what he was looking for, wasn’t part of his plans in the future and I needed to move on and go and play my football elsewhere.
That was a frustrating time, being 20, been in and around the first team squad since I was 17, although not making loads of appearances but still training and being part of the squad, and being part of the England set-up, then being told you’re not going to feature, you’re not part of the plans, it’s like right what’s next and where do I go from here?
You obviously enjoyed your time under Aidy and Brendan but less so under Malky. Do you know why you weren’t his type of player?
Under Aidy and Brendan it was positive and I was involved. With Malky, I’d played with him a lot in the reserves when he was coming to the end of his career. Then he was the reserve team manager and I was captain of the reserves. He used to talk of me quite highly within the reserve set-up, and I was thinking it would be a positive thing with him taking over as manager, and I thought I was going to have more chance of getting time on the pitch. But the managers have their way of playing and their style and Malky wanted to go for more of a big, strong, quick back four, and I didn’t fit that bill as a more technical player. That’s football, people have their styles and that’s just the way it is.
It’s just one of those things, I’ve seen Malky since. I run my football coaching business and my team has played against Malky’s son’s team, and he’s still based in Berkhamsted. I’ve crossed paths with him a couple of times since. It’s football, it’s just the way it is.
The thing which did frustrate me a little bit at the time was that I felt my technical ability didn’t really suit playing as a full-back. I felt like I could score goals and get forward. If he didn’t see me as a full-back, then maybe there as an opportunity for me in midfield. But it’s different at the top end, there’s results based on it and that sort of gamble wasn’t really on the cards. That was part of my reasoning further down the line when I decided to come out of the professional game and play non-league and play in midfield rather than a full back.
So was that the reason why you went into non-league after Barnet, that you wanted to play as a midfielder rather than a full-back?
There were quite a few reasons really.
I’d lived the professional footballer’s lifestyle since I was 10, coming through and wanting to be a professional footballer, sacrificing everything you have to sacrifice to be a pro. Then when I went to Barnet, we are struggling towards the bottom of League Two, one of the seasons I was there we survived on the last day of the season.
Mentally, I felt like I needed something more than being a footballer. A lot of my friends were coming away from university and were in their careers, and I was finished at one o’clock and going home and thinking I needed something with more mental stimulation than football can provide.
I wasn’t particularly enjoying playing as a full-back, we were scratching round at the bottom of League Two. The last few months at Barnet I was then starting preparations thinking, I want a chance in midfield, no-one’s giving me a chance in midfield, maybe I drop down and I focus on another career as well as playing football and go for that really.
Looking back now it was definitely the right decision for me to do that and drop down and play in a position I want to play in and enjoy my football. I went through a couple of seasons of not enjoying it and feeling a bit fed up. It can be quite a lonely place at times. My now wife, my girlfriend at the time, she was working all day, I was at home not doing enough really. I felt like I needed something else to keep me going. I wanted to enjoy playing football rather than thinking “uh, got to go and play football”.
Looking at where you play at Hemel and the other clubs you played at in non-league, you’re more of an attacking midfielder.
When I came out of pro football, I went to Chelmsford for a bit in the Conference South, but it was too much travelling just for a couple of nights a week. My two best mates at the time were playing for Hemel, so they said come and play here and enjoy your football. I didn’t really know what to do.
When I spoke to Dean Brennan and Stuart Maynard who are the two managers there, they just said we’ve seen you play before, just come here and enjoy, play where you want to play and show us what you can do, we’ll give you a chance. I have to take my hat off to them, giving me a chance to play in a position I wanted to play in. Since then I’ve scored quite a lot of goals, I’m now the club captain, it was the right decision for me.
There’s a few ex Hornets at Hemel – Darren Ward, Lloyd Doyley and Will Hoskins.
Yeah we’ve got Matty Spring still with us as well. We’ve got that Watford 2000’s era there which is good and provides a lot of experience in the squad. Wardy’s still playing at 39, Springy’s 37 or 38, Lloydy’s 35 so there’s plenty of experience there. They’re trying to keep enjoying their football and play as long as they can.
Once you’re in a football environment, it’s hard to let go of that, you know the team spirit and the camaraderie you have. Training twice a week isn’t as intensive on their bodies coming towards the end of their career and it gives people a chance to then focus on the next stage of their lives or their careers, whatever they decide to do. They’re still getting paid to play football, and it gives you time to work out the next steps. Some of those guys are working out, right I’ve had a brilliant career, what’s next now then.
Obviously mine came when I was younger than those guys, now I’m in a good position with work and playing that I’m enjoying.
You’re doing a bit of coaching now with your coaching school as well as playing for Hemel. Is that your main income now?
Yeah it’s a full time job for me. We coach over 500 kids a week now, we’re extremely busy, I’ve got eight other coaches that work for me. My time’s spent heavily providing the football coaching. I’ve got two kids now so I’ve got those guys to worry about. I’m extremely busy having to organise the coaching school, playing and looking after the family. It’s busy but it’s all good fun.
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