Hi John, thanks for chatting to us…
First question, what’s it like being a professional footballer ?
“It’s a real honour, it’s the game I’ve loved from as young as I can remember, so to be a professional and to have the chance to do what I enjoy most every day is a real privilege.”
When did you start playing football?
“My earliest memories are me with a ball, I joined my first team (Pelo FC) in South London aged 5 & then signed for Palace after a trial a couple of years after.”
What was it like making your debut a 15?
“Its definitely one of the highlights of my career so far. My Dad and I had been watching Palace for 10 years as I had a season ticket from the age of 5, so to make my debut for the club I support and to break the record for the youngest player in the history of the club was amazing.”
Regarded as one of the brightest young talents, what did you make of the hype?
“It was nice to be regarded as a player with a bright future and to be recognised for the craft you put so much time and effort in to succeed. However if you believe all the hype and only get encouraged when people say you are great, only means you will be discouraged when they say your not. So I’ve always tried to listen the opinions of others with a “pinch of salt”.
What’s the pressure like being a footballer?
“Understandably being judged by thousands of people on your performance every week brings some form of pressure, but you learn to deal with it and it helps massively knowing that I’m a Christian first and footballer second, so regardless of my performance, I’m still accepted in Christ.”
Why the Belgium move?
“When my contract expired at Spurs, I had several offers to move to clubs in England. However, at that time in my career I understood that it wasn’t about moving to the biggest club possible, it was about me rebuilding and moving somewhere where I would have the platform to show what I can do, to grow in confidence and really enjoy just playing every week again.
“I had been on loan to different clubs and I realised it was important for me to find a footballing home to learn the game and improve. Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink became the manager at Royal Antwerp FC and he called me and said that he would love to have me in his team so it was a no brainer for me in making the decision to move to Belgium.”
Was moving to Belgium hard?
“Moving abroad comes with its challenges but I’ve always believed that if you want something bad enough you will make sacrifices to achieve it. The hardest thing about playing abroad is being away from my family for really long periods and missing my niece and nephews grow up because they grow up so quick. My wife has been a real blessing and having her out in Belgium with me makes life a lot easier.”
How did you become a Christian?
“Growing up I always knew there was something out there but that was it really. My family weren’t religious either. My main focus was football so that kept me out of trouble and mischief whilst growing up in London.
“However my sister became a Christian when I was 16 and the way her life changed really made an impact on me. She invited me to church several times but i kindly declined but one Sunday I decided to join her. That was the first time I heard the Gospel, (The good news of Jesus Christ). I realised that day that even though I was a good person in my own eyes, the bad news was that I had sinned more times in my life than I could count and I needed to be forgiven and made right with God.
“I repented from my sins and I accepted the fact that Jesus died for me and paid the price for my sins to be forgiven. That was over 6 years ago and I thank God for saving me.”
How do you deal with pressures in football as a Christian?
“The best way to deal with the pressures that come in football is to spend quality time with The Lord. There is no substitute for prayer and reading the scriptures every day. Its important to renew our minds and to realise that we don’t have to do anything in our own strength but to lean on Jesus who promises to strengthen us and carry our stress and worry.”
Is it hard being a Christian in football?
“It definitely comes with its challenges but God equips and strengthens you to be able to do your best as a player and to represent Him at the same time.”
Do you have to conform to any stereotype as a footballer?
“I think automatically people tend to paint footballers with the same brush. However its down to the individual to show that not everyone is the same. Personally I don’t feel like i have to conform to any stereotype as a footballer. Even though I may look like other footballers I’m different, and even though football is a huge part of my life its not the only thing that defines me.”
What do your team-mates say about your faith?
“Some team-mates have tried to have a laugh at me for being a Christian but for the most part they are cool and respect me for my beliefs.”
Favourite Bible Verse?
“My favourite verse in Philippians 3v8 “Indeed I count everything as loss next to the surpassing worth of knowing Jesus Christ my Lord, for His sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish in order that I may gain Christ.”
Favourite worship song?
“My favourite worship song is ‘In Christ Alone” and my Christian Rap song is “The Excellency of Christ” by Timothy Brindle.”
My footballing inspirations?
“Ronaldinho is my favourite player and I spent hours watching him growing up. I like the way Kaka carries himself on and off the pitch and is a great example of a Christian in sport.”
What advice would you give to young aspiring players?
“Don’t be satisfied with being good, always look for ways to improve. Watch players you like on YouTube and try to copy the things they do on the pitch. Try to listen to the coaches and people around you and never underestimate practice, making the ball your best friend. You will have to make sacrifices to be what you want to be but always be willing to give up what you are for what you can be.”
Finally, what advice would you give to Christians who hide their faith?
“God gave you the talent to play football and put you in a club and around people to be an example and to represent Jesus to them. Its uncomfortable being different but don’t be afraid or ashamed of the Gospel and of what God has done in your life. Ask God to strengthen you to be a good example of someone who’s life has been changed by the King of Kings.”
A huge thanks to John for speaking to Cross The Line, we really appreciate your time.