Bradford City hero, Wayne Jacobs opened up to us about his walk with Jesus Christ whilst playing professional football.
Wayne, you played for the likes of Sheffield Wednesday, Hull City and Bradford City. All in all, was it a good career for you?
Yes, I would say so. With all the excitements of promotion, relegation, short-term injuries, long term injuries, being in favour, being out of favour and different managers. It was a thoroughly enjoyable career capped off with the fact that I was able to play in the top flight of English football.
What would you say has been your career highlight?
There’s always a few really. I think it’s like you’re children really, you love them all equally and there’s never one above the other. I guess if I stripped it right back, I was born in Sheffield, grew up there and went to school there. So for me my dream was to play for Sheffield Wednesday and I was fortunate enough to do that. Having a playing career as professional footballer in itself was an amazing life time achievement for me. I guess now, and what I’m most famous for is my time at Bradford City. I had a brilliant 11 years at the club and went back as an assistant manager too which was great. We had some fantastic times and some brilliant games too. I remember playing in the play-offs and obviously winning that at Wembley was just a real high. Personally, I will always hold dearly onto the fact I was made captain for Bradford when playing in the European tournament, the Intertoto Cup which for me was a huge honour.
How did you get into professional footballer?
I was picked up by Sheffield Wednesday after impressing the scouts playing for the Sheffield School Boys. They came knocking on my door on my 14th birthday and I signed a contract with them on that day, so it was a dream come true. We used to play twice a week, Tuesday’s and Thursday’s and as a school boy, representing my team and my area was such a privilege.
What the life as a footballer really like, give us an insight into your world.
Well, first and foremost it’s everything. Let’s compare it to some of life’s highlights, things like: getting married, going on holiday, having children, getting a successful job. The headline of being a football is that it is phenomenal. Within that, so within a marriage or having children, there’s also some really testing times ahead and you have to have strong character and determination to get past those issues. So being a footballer isn’t a walk in the park, you get tested on all fronts and as a player you have to be ready for that physically, emotionally and mentally.
Within your playing career, who was the best player you got to play against and why?
I had the blessings of playing against some superb players in my time, especially at Bradford. I enjoyed playing in the top division in an era where there were people coming up against you like that Arsenal side with Thierry Henry, Dennis Bergkamp. Then you had that Manchester United team with players like: Giggs, Cole, Yorke, Keane, Scholes, Beckham and it was fabulous to play against these types of players. For me personally, I almost mention Kieron Dyer. I wasn’t blessed with tremendous pace and the time I was playing was when Kieron was entering the scene at Newcastle and his pace was frightening. He made a huge name for himself at a young age and he was always a tough player to keep a hold of!
If you could pick any other 3 defenders to play alongside you (past or present) who would you choose?
Without thinking about it too deeply. I would say, Gary Neville at right back. He had a tremendous professional attitude and determination to win, his knowledge of the game is brilliant. I think I’d have one centre half with lots of aggression, so I’m going to pick Tony Adams, he was a man mountain. The other centre back, I would go for someone with a bit more pace and culture, so maybe a Rio Ferdinand. I think that’s a pretty decent back four!
Talk to us about the transfer market. What really goes on behind the scenes of a player transfer?
Well, I’ve really had one proper transfer in my career. That mas moving to Hull City just after my 19th birthday for about £30,000. I played my first handful of games for Sheffield Wednesday in the top flight, then the club had received contact from Hull City. I met with them, the manager, Howard Wilkinson said they had offered me a new contract at the club but only as a squad player rather than first team because of my age. He told me I had a decision to make as Hull were very interested in signing me and they want me to play first team football. In our day, the money wasn’t there like it is today so there wasn’t any of that really involved. Anyway, I signed and after that I finished every single contract that I signed my clubs.
After your career, you went into coaching and management, how did you find the change in roles?
It was brilliant. I arrived at Bradford when I was 25 and left when I was 36, I went to Halifax Town for 2 years but Bradford called me back and I was assistant manager obviously under Peter Taylor. Management is brilliant but it comes with its trials and tribulations along the way. It can be a frustrating job as some things are completely out of your possession but hopefully I was able to pass on some experience and knowledge to the players. It’s a results based business and it’s very hard to keep your jobs with such fine margins.
Tell us how you became a Christian?
I was in my 20’s at the time, playing at Hull City. I’d had a tough upbringing come from a split home which is never easy. My Mum was always very seriously ill and she developed cancer, so there were a lot of tough things going on. Although I was a professional footballer and people from the stands probably thought life was going swimmingly for me, in fact it wasn’t at all, I was a mess. I was struggling with life and on top of that I got a serious injury. Then a teammate of mine said I should meet this guy he met last night, so I did and he prayed for me and my knee. It was a really interesting time and I visited this gentlemen, asking him all the questions about life. He told me about the Bible, he prayed and I really felt the peace of God whilst I was visiting this man. After 18 months of travelling to talk things over, I experienced physical, emotional and spiritual healing and it was at that point that I accepted Jesus into my life.
Would you say your Christian faith helped you through your career?
Yes definitely, there’s that verse in the Bible that says “we are ships without a rudder” and for me my rudder was Jesus Christ. That gave me stability, boundaries and the peace I needed in my life. I loved reading the Bible and using the scripture to put my career in context with injuries, being out of favour and relegation. I would be reminded that I could be used by God to be an encouragement to others, work hard and be a witness.
Do you think you were open in your faith with other players?
Absolutely, I was always open to talking to players about it. But funnily enough I found my teammates coming up to me. More often than not, when we would go out for some drinks, individual players would come up to me and say “I’ve been watching you for a long time now, what’s different about you? I need to know. When that opportunity arises, that way I can share my faith with them. I used to hold meetings in my house with other Christian players in the South-Yorkshire region and it was a great time of fellowship for us to come together as not just footballers, but brothers in Christ.
Is there a specific piece of scripture that you hold onto for encouragement?
Not particularly as I believe that the Bible is the living word of God and with that, the word of God should always been challenging us and moving us forward. I completely understand people who have certain verses that are close to them, but for me, I like to get stuck into the whole word of God and discern what he is saying to me.