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'My best football is yet to come' - In depth with Aldershot midfielder Jermaine Anderson

Photo: Aldershot Town

A season like this is challenging enough to negotiate for a player, but surely even more so when you have to wait until December for your first competitive action. Since officially signing for Aldershot Town at the start of that month, Jermaine Anderson has taken to the task well at the National League side, with the midfield man also coming up with goals against Wealdstone and Wrexham, plus a double against Woking.

The former Arsenal youngster is nearing 150 professional appearances, having made the first of those for Peterborough United in the Championship when he was only 16. At 24, he could be forgiven for feeling like a wise old veteran sitting back in his armchair by this point! He feels, though, that the best is most definitely yet to come.

Jermaine reflects in this conversation on the journey so far - including that dreaded ‘tap on the glass’ sound as a Peterborough teenager away with the first team - and he also looks ahead to a future he intends to be filled with progression. Maybe senior international football as well, in the gold, green and black...


Firstly Jermaine, how did joining Aldershot come about, do you get a phone call one day out of the blue?

I got a phone call saying ‘would you like to go into Aldershot and train?’ I said ‘yeah, sure’ and then I met the gaffer (Danny Searle) when I came in, he was really nice. There was obviously a period where I was settling in and whatnot, and the gaffer wanted to take a look at me and see how I was, bearing in mind I came in late. I think it was November, so I wasn’t at maximum fitness, but obviously I managed to do well and got my initial contract until January.

Tell me about those few months between leaving Bradford City and then ultimately joining Aldershot. What did that spell look like for you? Were you going in and training with teams?

It was more of a waiting game. Obviously there were thousands of other players in my position as well, free agents for whatever reason, so I had to make sure I just stayed as fit as I can, training by myself. There’s obviously only so much you can do while you’re not in a footballing environment, but I did the best I could to keep myself in the best shape I could for when the opportunity did arrive.

How did you find that, in terms of just keeping at it, not letting that motivation wane? What kept you going, perhaps on those more difficult days?

Just my love of the game, and knowing that you have to put these hours in, no one’s gonna give you anything. You’ve got to give yourself the best chance for when that opportunity does arise, so you’re capable to put the work in. You can’t just sit and wait, because nothing’s really given to you in this game, is it?

Leaving Bradford, what were the feelings you took away from your time there?

Oh, it was a great club, I enjoyed it. Obviously I didn’t play as much as I wanted to, but I think a lot of people know how big the club is and the fanbase. I couldn’t say a bad word about it. I wasn’t playing as much as I wanted to, and that’s obviously the main thing when you’re a footballer, but apart from that, I’d say the club was brilliant.

You've been up north with Bradford and Doncaster in recent seasons. Obviously you're now back down south, but are you fully back home, or living away still?

Oh no, I’m back home now, I’m in Camden Town. Born and bred, so I’m back home, for the first time in a long time actually. It’s nice to be home.

Who was your team growing up?

I was an Arsenal fan; I had no choice!

You obviously had a few years with the club as a youngster. As well as (Everton's Alex) Iwobi, who else was there with you in that group, in terms of notable names?

(Middlesbrough forward) Chuba Akpom, (Doncaster Rovers forward) Fejiri Okenabirhie. This was in school times, so from Under-8s to Under-16s. We would just train twice a week, as the majority of academies do. It was just a tight-knit bunch, all of us were pretty local, and at those ages, you just love playing football, don’t you? It’s just having another group of best mates that you’re kicking a ball around with.

Born and raised in Camden, but is it correct you have Caribbean heritage?

Yeah, my family are Jamaican, from a town called Trelawny, which is in like the countryside in Jamaica. I go back when I can; obviously I haven’t been able to go back in a while. You have to go back and see your roots, though, see where you’re from, and it’s a nice change of scenery sometimes, from busy old London!

I know you've represented England at different age groups but have the JFF (Jamaica Football Federation) ever been in touch to see if you’d want to play for them?

They never have and it’s something my mum always says to me, ‘why don’t you play for Jamaica?’ I’ve never really known who to speak to or get in touch with, but it was always something that I had on my mind from young, because I’m close to my roots. I was brought up to know where my family came from. England is where I was born and where the majority of my life is, but there’s roots to our family that go back hundreds of years, so it’s always something I’ve considered, and I would love to do. I just haven’t been contacted.

In your career so far, what sort of approach from a manager have you felt has got the best from you? Mainly encouragement or sometimes someone being harsh with you?

It’s a tough one because there’s moments in games and seasons where you kind of need a bit of both. We’re all humans, so sometimes you need a kick up the arse, and sometimes you need to be told how good you are. I’d say the experience that I’ve had, playing quite a few games, I’m pretty self-sufficient. I can handle a bollocking if it’s needed, if the gaffer wants to make a bit of an example, if it will maybe help someone else in the team who’s a bit younger. Or he might single me out and say ‘Jermaine’s doing well, you lot need to get to his standards’, something along those lines. But I feel like I’ve seen quite a bit in my time playing, I’ve had different managerial styles, different dressing rooms, and I know what’s right and what’s wrong, and how to get the best out of myself, I’d say.

Is there a specific spell up to now, maybe during those years at Peterborough, that you look back on as your happiest in the game so far? So, feeling your best on the pitch and most content with everything else around your football.

I’d actually say my best football is yet to come, but my most enjoyable, I’d say my middle stages of being at Peterborough. Not when I first got there when I was 16, maybe between the ages of 17 to 19/20, just because of the mixture of playing well, scoring goals and having a good team as well. We had a good bunch of boys back then, a lot of them were from London as well, and we got on like a house on fire. We were in digs together, it was just a good vibe. I’d say that was my most fun time, but as I say, I think my best football is yet to be played. I’ve scored a few goals this season but I still think there’s more to come.

On the other side of that, what about the most difficult time?

Definitely getting injured when I was at Peterborough. Also getting released at Arsenal; that was really difficult, because I was still young. You’re in the Arsenal academy and you have ambitions of playing for Arsenal, so suffering that setback was really hard. I feel like all these experiences have stood me in good stead for future experiences. If you get dropped, or if the team’s going through a bad patch, from having major setbacks like getting injured or getting released from young, you can kind of rationalise what’s going on. You can understand that it’s tough but it’s not the end of the world, and you know what you need to do in order to put things right.

Have there been any teammates in particular in your career who you've felt that extra understanding with on the pitch? Like an unspoken connection in terms of knowing each other's movements etc.

When Britt (Assombalonga) was at Peterborough, it’s hard to explain, you just knew where to put the ball and when, and he would be there. If he’s not there already, he’s gonna get there. Conor Washington as well. Also I’d say Erhun Oztumer, who’s at Charlton but on loan at Bristol Rovers. He was another one, he was playing number ten and you knew you could give him the ball wherever and he’d do something magical with it; he’d always be an option. There’s been loads of good players I’ve played with, like Lee Tomlin, (Nathaniel) Mendez-Laing, George Boyd; top, top players where you can just see that they think differently. Good players to learn off.

In terms of individual opponents, have there been any especially memorable ones? That could be those who taught you something new from playing them, or they just had a lot to say for themselves!

There’s been a few where I’m walking off at half-time thinking ‘this is mad’. I played against (Liverpool's Diogo) Jota in a pre-season game when he was at Wolves, and he was flames. He just got on with it but he had a different kind of flair.

When you've joined a new team, have you ever had to sing, and if so, which song(s)?

Yeah, yeah, every time. My go-to song is ‘Let Me Love You’ by Mario. It’s an easy one, there’s not too many high notes, and all the boys end up joining in halfway through, so it’s a wise choice!

Did you have to do that at Peterborough when you were stepping up to the first team? Into the lions' den in front of all the senior pros watching!

Yeah, I remember it so well. We were on tour somewhere, Portugal or Spain, I was 16 and it was my first time away with them. I just remember going down the lift for dinner, knowing I was gonna sing, and I was shaking in the lift! I was so nervous, and then you’re all at the dinner table, you hear the tap on the glass. I stood up on the chair and my legs were almost giving way! It was crazy but I managed to get through it and all the boys loved it, so it was alright in the end.

Have you ever been team DJ anywhere in your career?

No, I haven’t, you know? I feel like I should be, being honest with you! I’ve never done it, but to be fair, everywhere I’ve been we’ve had good DJs. H (Harry Panayiotou) is the DJ here most of the time, or (Alex) Finney, so we’ve got good DJs at the moment.

In your time in the game so far, have you felt people have always had a fair impression of what you're all about, as a player and person, or have there ever been any misconceptions at all?

I don’t feel like there’s been any misconceptions, to be fair. Not that I know of anyway, because every club I’ve been to, or every manager I’ve met for the first time, always seems to know that I’m pretty solid, I’m pretty hard-working and I like to help the boys. I’m not one who’s gonna throw the towel in when it gets difficult. But I don't know, there might be some people who think some things about me that I don’t know about!

Away from football, what else interests you, relaxes you, inspires you even? I guess fashion is one for you?

Yeah, I like fashion. I’m into music, from all different genres; I might listen to a Coldplay album on the way to training, or it might be some jazz. I just appreciate good music, in whatever form that is, and finding new music is a good feeling. I’m into Call of Duty, like the rest of the world, and FIFA. In my downtime, if I’m at home, put the PS5 on and get a Warzone game going or something. Fashion, music, art; just creative things, I guess. Stuff that just sparks your mind in your spare time.

Finally, as we speak now, with you at 24, if you were summing up your path in the game so far in your own words, how would you tell it?

Up to now, I feel like I’ve had a lot of experience in a short time. A lot of football, considering my age. I came in at 16, I was at Peterborough when they were in the Champ, I played League One, I’ve had setbacks, I’ve had injuries. I’ve had it where managers are getting sacked, where fans are turning against the club. A lot of things I’ve seen, and going through it at the time is a bit of a whirlwind, but I feel like it’s been really valuable. You can’t buy that experience, and like I said before, it’s stood me in good stead for the future, because I’m only 24. I don’t think anyone’s really in their prime at that age, and I feel like I’ve learned a lot of lessons that will help me in the future, and be able to guide me in the right direction.

Interview by @chris_brookes

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