Jackson's career was born on Facebook and raised at Accrington... now he's heading back with Ipswich
PUBLISHED: 07:58 04 January 2019 | UPDATED: 16:30 04 January 2019
This weekend's visit to Accrington Stanley will bring back plenty of memories for striker Kayden Jackson. ANDY WARREN spoke to him about his remarkable football journey.
We all do it. Sat on the sofa, aimlessly scrolling through social media on our phone or tablet while relaxing in front of the TV.
Often it’s complete nonsense; the latest picture of your friend’s cat, the same old people arguing the same old points or making the same old jokes and yet another advert that has seemingly followed you around for days.
But for Ipswich Town striker Kayden Jackson, one Facebook click changed his life forever.
“I was just at home playing on the Xbox or watching TV and scrolling through Facebook at the same time,” he said.
“By chance an advert popped up on the right hand side and I’ll always remember it. I just followed it through, read up on it and saw what it’s about and it was appealing to a lad in my predicament at the time.
“I put my application in and that was the start of it.”
Jackson had clicked on an advert for the Samsung Win a Pro Contract competition, which sent an 18-year-old working to become a personal trainer on a rollercoaster ride which has now taken him to the Championship with Ipswich Town.
Roll back to 2012 and you will find Jackson in his native Bradford. He’d been let go by his hometown club due to a back injury, had had unsuccessful trial spells with Blackburn and Leeds and was playing for Albion Sports in Northern Counties East Division One for £40 a week.
The odds were stacked against a young man who grew up on a council estate in the West Yorkshire city, not least because more than 5,000 other undiscovered players had also entered a competition to win professional contracts at either Swindon Town or Leyton Orient.
He had only started playing organised football at 14 and had not progressed through a professional academy like so many young players do these days. That’s why he had spent two ‘boring’ weeks on work experience at Fitness First and was hoping to get a job as a fitness instructor after completing his qualifications.
But that’s not what he wanted for himself. What he wanted was to be a professional football player and this one tap on his phone had presented him with another chance to do just that.
“I always knew how hard it would be to become a professional footballer and I never at any point thought it would come easily for me or fall in my lap,” he said.
“I’ve always tried to work as hard as I possibly could to become one. For me it was an opportunity to go on and earn a contract.
“Coming close didn’t count for anything at any of the other clubs I’d been at because I was still coming home afterwards and having nothing to show for it and being told there was nothing there for me.
“Luckily, though, I grabbed this one.”
Application complete, his CV stood out and he earned a spot at regional trials before progressing through a six-month long process and, after a big reveal ceremony at his family home, a one-year contract at Swindon Town was his.
“It was a long old slog,” he said.
“It was months of going here, there and everywhere. Up and down the country from Manchester to Swindon, London and Leeds.
“Back then I was enjoying every bit of it. My family were incredible and took me everywhere I needed to go. I remember going to Southampton for one part of the process which was a long old way from Bradford, but anything I needed my family helped me with.
“They always believed in me but, while I obviously hoped I’d win it, I probably didn’t think I would. I was playing against players who had been released from academies or had been with young England teams, so it was quite daunting for me to be coming from Bradford where I was playing for £40 a game. I wasn’t even guaranteed a spot in my team there at the time.
“I hoped and believed. I made sure that at every trial, be it a game or drills, I left my mark in them and in the end I did enough.
“Paolo Di Canio, the Swindon manager at the time, was quite impressed with me and I heard him speak about me on the TV,” Jackson continued.
“He was the one who made the decision to take me on but he left his job there a few weeks after. I was new to all of this at the time so to be working with a Premier League legend was something I was really looking forward to. Sadly that didn’t happen, but everything happens for a reason.”
There was no Di Canio but plenty of star quality awaited Jackson when he arrived to begin his contract in the summer of 2013. He moved to Wiltshire with no guarantees; the previous winner of a Samsung contract, Chris Smith, had departed with just 45 minutes of football to his name and the Robins’ squad was packed with young players destined for bigger and better things.
“Being at Swindon was massive for me because it took me into full-time football for the first time and also gave me the chance to train with some very good players. That Swindon team had some great players in it. Massimo Luongo, now at QPR, he was one of the best players I’d seen at the time. Then there was Alex Pritchard (Huddersfield), Ryan Mason (formerly of Tottenham and Hull) and Yaser Kasim (most recently at Northampton).
“The standard was frightening at times so to be training with those lads was unbelievable. I’ll always be thankful to the whole process and to the competition. I’m so lucky it was set up in the first place because things would have been a lot different without it.”
He spent much of his time at Swindon on loan at local non-league sides Swindon Supermarine and Oxford City, where he scored plenty of goals, before being let go without an appearance to his name at the County Ground.
It’s a fate suffered by the majority of the seven winners of the Samsung competition before it came to an end in 2014, with none of the other six victorious players currently playing in the top six divisions of English football.
Jackson now had to beat the odds again.
“That’s the way I’ve been brought up really,” he said.
“My uncle, my dad and anyone around me wouldn’t have had it any other way. They wouldn’t have let me fall off.
“For me there was never going to be a feeling of ‘right, I’ve been released now so I’m going to go home and be led astray and go off down a wrong path’.
“Straight from Swindon I signed with Tamworth which was nearly two hours away from where I was living and I knew I’d have to make sacrifices and travel for that on Tuesdays and Thursdays to train and then on Saturdays to play.
“But at the end of the day that was the opportunity that was there for me at the time. There wasn’t much on the table for me but I went with it and made the best of it.
“That’s what I’ve always done.”
From there Jackson has slowly climbed the ladder. Next it was Wrexham in the National League where his goals led to a first attempt at the Championship with Barnsley but he left without making a single appearance. He was loaned out to League Two side Grimsby where he was managed by former Ipswich manager Paul Hurst, putting in motion a sequence of events which would lead to his £1.6million transfer to Portman Road from Accrington Stanley in the summer of 2018.
“Signing for Ipswich was such a proud day for me and my family,” he said.
“When I have time to sit down and think about things and how I’ve progressed it really will hit me just how far I’ve come. Scoring my first Championship goal against Brentford is something I’ve still not processed. I’ve still got so much more to give, though.
“I played for Field AFC in the West Yorkshire League when I was 18 and I remember playing against teams like Beeston who played at a ground overlooking Elland Road. A very small team in Leeds, but I remember playing there one Saturday while Leeds were playing and you could hear the roar from the ground. It’s surreal to think I’ve played there now for Ipswich.
“I’ve worked very hard to get where I am and I want to work even harder now because I know it can be taken away in a flash.
“I just want to work as hard as I possibly can and give back to everyone who’s showed the faith in me and given me chances.”
Jackson’s is story with plenty of chapters left to be written but is one which would not have been possible at all were it not for his work ethic and drive.
He’s the poster boy for not giving up and making the most of everything that comes your way.
“I think that’s just life, though – not everyone’s in the same situation and has the same circumstances growing up,” he said.
“You just have to make the best out of what you’ve got and I think I’ve done that, definitely. Growing up where I did you can probably count on one hand the people who are succeeding in top end jobs in life and it’s not something that happens very often from there.
“At the end of the day that’s life. You have to keep believing and I’ve been so lucky to have people around me.
“Without them, it could have been very different and I just want to keep going and keep making people proud.”
JACKSON ON HIS SEARING PACE
“I’ve always enjoyed running and as early as primary school I was racing and I don’t think there was a sports day I didn’t win.”
“I remember in later years I wasn’t allowed to enter every race and I was made to do some daft things like the egg and spoon. I’d find a way to win those, too – probably by cheating. I was made to do beanbag throwing as well which was a shame at the time.
“I’ve always liked running though and people seemed to notice I was quick. That’s helped me massively.
“When I played under 17s football I used to score three or four a game just because the keeper would kick the ball over the defenders and nobody would be able to catch me.
“It’s something, at this level, that can be really helpful but you do need more than pace. When I first went to Grimsby and played in the Football League for the first time I was playing against better defenders and they can work you out. It took me a while to learn when to run and what runs to make.
“It’s something that helps me and helps the team.”
This interview first appeared in the latest edition of the Kings of Anglia magazine... available now with free UK delivery