Jermaine Beckford told the Official Matchday Programme for Sunday's match against West Ham United about ‘goosebump’ moments scoring for the Blues, life after football, his passion and love for Everton, and why leaving the Club was one of the toughest decisions he’s ever made.
“I still call it my home. That’s what it means to me. Walking out onto the pitch and listening to the fans. And when I scored my first Premier League goal there against Bolton I almost did a full lap, I was so excited. It’s just magical and that’s why Everton is such a fantastic football club.”
Jermaine Beckford may have spent only 13 months at Everton, but Goodison Park clearly made a huge impression on him and his affection for the Club is absolutely genuine.
“I made some great friends and had some great experiences,” says Beckford, who was at Goodison from May 2010 to August 2011. “I learned how to be a man and I’m able to say that I came from a west London council estate and played Premier League football for a football club that’s so rich in history.”
Beckford is charming company, and his pleasant persona has enabled him to move smoothly from the centre of the pitch to the sidelines in front of a television camera – which is ironic because during his playing days he worked hard to shun the media!
When he reached the heights of the Premier League and started scoring goals for Everton, the regular requests for his time were frequently met with polite refusals.
“My sole focus was on playing football and trying to be the best that I could with no distractions,” is his explanation. “But I enjoy it, I’m a chatterbox – always have and always will be.
“I’ve got my UEFA B Licence, which I did during the last three years of my playing career, but I’ve had three major knee operations. I’ve done my medial ligaments twice on my right knee and had six micro-fractures, and I’ve got no cartilage on my left knee and had had 12 micro-fractures on that one!
“My wife and I had some conversations about what I was going to do after playing. I was only 30/31 so I was young in football terms but old enough to start to think about the next chapter.
“I wanted something outside of football, too. I had played for 16 years and football takes over your whole life and some players handle retirement better than others because they have outside interests. The rates of depression, divorce and bankruptcy are high and I didn’t want to be another one of those statistics.
“My wife and I have got a vegan wellness company called Supernova Living, which is doing well. We did Fern Cotton’s Happy Place Festival recently in Cheshire and sold all of our stock in five or six hours. We’re onto something good and I wanted something to focus on outside of football.
“But once you’re out of football for a while, you start to miss it. Somebody at Leeds United contacted me and asked me to do an interview on camera and as I had nothing else to do, I gave it a go. The next thing, the BBC, Sky Sports, BT Sport and talkSPORT got in touch and it was like a snowball effect and, fortunately, I’m still getting calls from them now.”
However, Beckford’s flourishing media career very nearly floundered at the first hurdle when he realised that maybe he wasn’t as clued up as he thought.
He tells the story with a smile.
“When I first started, I thought my knowledge of football was great and I didn’t think I needed to research players or teams,” he admits. “When I did my first job with BBC Radio Five Live, I got all sorts wrong! I had decided not to research anything and just answer questions off the top of my head. Big mistake! Five minutes into the game, I was asked about a certain player and all I could say was, ‘Erm, I don’t know!’ and at that exact moment I vowed never to get myself in that situation again. I learned from that mistake and will never make that same mistake again. I now make sure I know everything about everyone involved in the games.”
After being released by Chelsea as a teenager, Beckford set about proving them wrong and quickly established a goalscoring reputation for himself, first with non-league Wealdstone and then Leeds United. The Yorkshire outfit were in the Championship and League One during his time at Elland Road but David Moyes decided to take a punt and invite him to English football’s top table with Everton.
“My contract was up and so I was a free agent and I spoke to a whole host of clubs,” Beckford recalls. “I was really sad at leaving Leeds because I’d been there for four-and-a-half years and scored 85 goals but if you look at Everton and Leeds, there are connections – the history of both clubs and an incredible fanbase, both can be bonkers at times, too, which I love!
“As soon as I had a conversation with David Moyes and Steve Round it was a no-brainer. I came in at the same time as Seamus [Coleman] and we were both inexperienced at that level so we bounced off each other a bit.
“Seamus had the right energy, personality and mentality. He was still quite withdrawn and within himself, but he’d talk to Phil Neville and Tony Hibbert on a daily basis about positioning and awareness and he’d pick up snippets of information. He’s done a phenomenal job for Everton and he’s still so grounded, he’s a lovely, lovely guy. I’m so proud of him.”
As soon as the ink dried on Beckford’s contract, he was whisked away to Australia for a three-week pre-season trip – something which he firmly believes really helped him to settle at Everton.
“That’s the best way to be integrated into a new football team,” says Beckford. “There are no outside influences or distractions and you have no choice other than to immerse yourself in different people and you learn about each other, even on the flight. We were 20 hours in the air and I was sat next to the fitness coach, Steve Tashjian, and I still speak to him to this day.
“That trip was my first meeting with Marouane Fellaini – and what a character! He’s nuts! There’s just no filter with him and he’s one of my favourite people. There’s a youthful innocence about him and it knocks you for six when he doesn’t understand something you’re saying because he’ll tell you in very blunt terms!”
Beckford was also taken aback by just how talented a footballer Fellaini was.
“Yes, it surprised me a lot! You look at him and he seems gangly, tall and wiry but then you see him with the ball at his feet and he’s really neat with a great eye for a pass. He’s aggressive, too, and he’s dangerous to play near! In one of my early training sessions I did a step-over, dropped a shoulder and sold him, he turned the wrong way. In an attempt to win the ball, Felli over-stretched and went right down the side of my calf, taking a massive chunk of skin off. I was fuming but straight away he was over me apologising, ‘Becks, I’m so sorry my brother’ and I just couldn’t be angry with him.”
Having been the star man at Wealdstone and Leeds, Beckford now had to reinvent himself a little bit. Moyes was, and still is, a firm believer that defending is a collective responsibility – regardless of who is providing the all-important goals.
“It took a while for me to fully understand what he needed from me as a striker and as a football player,” Beckford reveals. “The defensive side of the game had never been a part of my thought process. In my mind there were 10 other players behind me to do the defending and my focus was on the attacking side of things like scoring goals and creating opportunities. But once I listened to his methodology and how he wanted me to play I realised that it’s not about being a selfish striker and scoring goals, it’s about being a selfless team player and I really enjoyed it.”
Whenever you speak to Jermaine Beckford about Everton, he never lets you finish the question about the highlights he enjoyed. As soon as he knows you’re going to ask him about his goal in the Merseyside derby at Anfield, he jumps in!
“It’s at the top! I loved it and I want to re-live it every single day,” he gushes.
“Walking out of the tunnel at Anfield and seeing the stadium opening up was a goosebump moment. I looked at my royal blue jersey and I thought, ‘We’re going to war here’, and it was an incredible feeling. The atmosphere was so hostile and you could cut it with a knife.”
The Blues were trailing at half-time against Liverpool but Sylvain Distin levelled early in the second period and Beckford’s moment came in the 52nd minute.
“As soon as the ball fell to me, I knew that I had to get my body in the way and get the ball away as quickly as I could,” he remembers. “I’m just glad it was at that end of the pitch because I got to experience what the fans felt and feel the energy coming from them. It’s an out-of-body experience and as soon as the ball goes past the goalkeeper’s finger-tips and you hear the eruption from the fans there’s an almighty surge of energy that takes over your whole body. Before you’ve had a chance to think about a celebration, you’ve got three players straight on top of you screaming and shouting.”
That game ultimately finished 2-2 but Beckford’s ‘second favourite’ Everton goal proved to be the winner when he ran virtually the full length of the Goodison Park pitch before delicately lifting the ball over Chelsea keeper Petr Cech.
It was an astonishing goal but when did he start to think he would actually score?
“When I picked the ball up in the 18-yard box!” he laughs…and maybe he’s being serious. “As soon as I broke clear through the middle I should have just run in a straight line and put the after-burners on. But for some reason I started to venture over to the left side of the pitch and when I got a little bit of fortune around the halfway line, I just went for it.
“I used to do a lot of research on goalkeepers, and maybe that’s where my enjoyment of research came from, watching their movement, seeing how early they liked to commit themselves and which way they preferred to dive. Petr Cech was always the type of keeper who went down early but because of his wide wingspan he could compensate. I aimed for the space between his head and his arm and fortunately his reflexes weren’t as sharp as they normally were. It was another incredible moment and I’m getting goosebumps talking about it now.”
That goal lifted Beckford to the top of the Everton goalscoring chart, alongside Louis Saha, and only Leighton Baines finished above him in terms of assists. So why then was that wonder-strike his last goal for Everton before leaving for Leicester City?
“Purely out of frustration,” says Beckford. “We went on a pre-season trip to the States and it was absolutely amazing but after a conversation with the management team, I knew my minutes would be restricted. Now I’d gone from playing 50-plus games for three seasons (at Leeds) to playing somewhere in the mid-20s and been told that my time would be restricted again. As somebody who loves football, I needed to play. I couldn’t be the type who is happy to sit on the bench and collect my money. I wanted to be involved in every single matchday and give the best of myself.
“It was probably one of the hardest decisions I have ever had to make just because of the connection I had made to the city and to my teammates, but I wanted to play football.”
It was all-too brief, but it was memorable. And Jermaine Beckford still loves the Blues!