Talk us through your childhood. How did you get into football?
JJ: I got into football playing on a park with mates and school friends. A lot of my mates at the time were playing for a local Saturday club team - Priory County. I turned up one morning and got a chance to get involved. I remember scoring and really enjoying myself. I came off the field to meet up with my step-dad after the game and he told me he’d had 3 different scouts come and talk to him, one was from Manchester United. I knew I wasn’t going to look back from that point. I dedicated most days and nights to practicing and playing. Our neighbours hated me. All my pocket money went on new windows and new balls.
What motivates you as a player? Who (if anyone) do you take inspiration from?
JJ: From an early age I had 3 huge idols that I looked up to. Pele, Maradona, and Ian Wright!
The first two for obvious reasons. They were the world's most talked about and loved in the game. Ian Wright was to me the best thing I’d ever seen. He was a personality and that’s what I wanted to be. Not just a footballer, but someone that could be themselves on the field. He was definitely a big inspiration for me, from his goal celebrations to how he’d not only score goals but give 110% too. He was a big game player.
What tips would you give to young players at the start of their career?
JJ: One thing I’d say to young players starting their careers is to never take your abilities as a player, or your opportunities as a man for granted. Nothing at all lasts forever, so dedicate everything you can, while you can, to getting stronger and smarter whilst playing in the game. Focus on developing on the field whilst concentrating on your off the field work too. Education is important so don’t forget that.
How do you usually prepare for a game? Do you have any pre-game rituals?
JJ: No real pre-game rituals but one thing i do like to do is listen to music. Soulful house music gets me on my level!!
To what do you best attribute your successes in the game?
JJ: I’d definitely have to say my belief in God. Without him I wouldn’t be here for a start. Nothing at all I’ve achieved or experienced would have been possible. Hard work and determination has enabled me to keep going and also a love for the game too. Watching it grow has made my love for it grow. I still love it as much as I ever did. Even now since I’ve been here in the (United) States i wake up every Saturday morning to watch Premier League games kick off. It’s what we all live for. Thankfully I was able to use this as a tool to help my family and provide for myself - I’m so grateful.
Check Jemal out on Instagram: @jemal_johnson