Jermaine ‘Jay’ Fordah is someone you just can’t help but like. The 26-year-old goalkeeper has been working hard his whole life trying to get his break and that finally came earlier this year when he was offered his first professional deal by USL side El Paso Locomotive. The video of Fordah being told that he would be signed by El Paso is a joy to watch and was well received on social media.
This season the Londoner has had to be patient but he has taken his opportunities well when they have prevented themselves. Playing under English boss Mark Lowry in the second-tier of the American league structure, he made his professional debut in May in the US Open Cup before then going on to keep a clean sheet on his league debut, playing alongside compatriots Moses Makinde and Andrew Fox.
Fordah’s story has taken him from non-league to training with MLS clubs to taking on the likes of Thierry Henry and Dimitri Payet and back again.
I have been lucky enough to get to know Jay over the season and I am delighted to be able to share is story in football so far on my blog. He has worked incredibly hard in his career so far, making sacrifices along the way and travelling between America and England regularly to make his dream happen so it is great that I can be a platform to share Jay’s story.
Below are a series of answers penned by Fordah about his career in football so far, it’s a inspirational story!
On growing up and getting into football
I actually started playing really late at 13, and funny enough I didn’t like football prior to that. I only started because a friend of mine didn’t turn up for school one day, so a few boys were playing football and they needed an extra guy, reluctantly I decided to go in goal for them and I just took to it instantly. From there I decided to take it more seriously going on to play for a couple local sides, Luton Borough Dragons and Crawley Green FC as encouraged by my friends. At 14 I eventually landed a trial with my local professional team Luton Town FC who were in League 1 at the time, so those were my first big steps into the world of football.
On playing non-league and keeping the faith after leaving Luton Town
When things didn’t pan out as I had hoped I didn’t really know what to do. So after doing a bit of research into some other players paths following getting released by their clubs I decided to venture into non-league football. It was very different and the demands of me were a lot greater than when I was in academy football, now rather than training and playing to develop I was doing it for the 3 points on a Saturday and managers jobs were on the line. I’m a Christian so I always had faith in God that there was a chance I could still go pro despite being in the non-league. I just didn’t know how I was going to make the jump considering I’d been overlooked and told I was too small numerous times.
On the move to North America in 2014
The move to the States in 2014 provided a lot of new opportunities for me and it came about as my now wife’s family had moved out there. We looked into a few things together and decided we should take a shot at me going pro in the US. When I first came out I was doing some coaching at kids camps and local teams while my wife searched for opportunities for me to go on trial, eventually a chance arose for me to train with the New York Red Bulls U23 team. I drove up from Connecticut 2 hours to their training ground in New Jersey. That would be my first training session in quite a while so I was anxious but at the same time confident that coming from a culture in England where we predominantly play football, I would do well. Their facilities were unreal and I ended up having an excellent session, what I didn’t know was the reserve team manager was watching and after he invited me to train with the reserves and first team in their next session. My wife actually came up with me for that and it was an amazing experience, I was training with Thierry Henry and Tim Cahill who had just come back fresh off of scoring that goal in the World Cup. I thoroughly enjoyed my time at the Red Bulls and feel I could have landed a contract with them, at the time they didn’t have a USL team but if they did, maybe who knows what could’ve happened.
I ended up going back to England after that because I couldn’t find a team in the US to take a chance on me so it was all the way back to the beginning. I continued to train and stay sharp while I was there incase something came up, and surely enough thank God it did. I ended up speaking with the goalkeeper coach at the Vancouver Whitecaps and he invited me in to come and train with then USL team Whitecaps 2. My wife’s nan lives there and so she sorted out me being able to stay with her while I trained, so I packed my bags and flew out to Canada.
Now if I said that training with the Red Bulls was an amazing experience, this one was phenomenal. Whitecaps 2 had a lot of really good players, some who are still in the USL, a couple in the Canadian Premier League and a few in the MLS. One player in particular that I learnt a lot from was Spencer Richey who is now the starting goalkeeper at FC Cincinnati, he spent a lot of time with the first team but when he did train with us I felt we really pushed each other. I would train everyday with the team, go to games and there were a few instances in which we trained at BC Place; the first team stadium. I can remember having a really good session there doing some goalkeeper training with the first team coach and then small sided games in which I pulled off some really good saves. I really wanted to sign a contract with the team but in the end after 3 months it wasn’t to be and in hindsight it was probably for the best as the USL team disbanded upon the season ending.
On getting to train with West Ham after leaving Vancouver
After leaving Vancouver I got the opportunity to train everyday with West Ham’s U23’s and everything about that was just incredible, being in a Premier League setup really changed and improved me as a player. Working with players who had made their first team debuts, were on the bench for the first team and had even played for their country, gave me a renewed belief that I did have the ability to play pro if given the chance. I didn’t have the opportunity to train with the first team or get any game time but I did train with Dimitri Payet and in a small sided tournament in training my team beat his which had me ecstatic! The experience I had in east London thoroughly prepared me to have another shot at getting a contract in the US so I’m very grateful for it and I still keep in contact with a number of players and staff that are there.
On the differences between playing in England and America
I would say one of the major differences in the football out here is games are end to end without any real structure, and also players will shoot from absolutely anywhere. I wouldn’t say my style of goalkeeping has changed or that I’ve even really had to change, just improve in terms of ability. I’ve always been a very athletic unorthodox keeper in terms of my style but I feel I’m much more on my toes ready for something wild than when I played in England. Our gaffer is English and he’s very possession based, there’s a lot of playing out from the back with the objective of controlling games so I’ve got used to doing that a lot.
On that moment when he finally signed his first professional deal
There’s a lot that happened between my first venture into the world of football and finally signing a pro contract at the age of 25 that I haven’t even touched upon. A lot of struggle, a lot hard and dark times which challenged me mentally, physically and financially. So the day I finally got it was like the weight of the world was off my shoulders, I felt so proud, like I’d repaid all the faith my wife and family had in me to keep pursuing my dream. It felt even better than I imagined and the way the team revealed it to me just topped it all off, to know they’d seen my hard work and felt I had the talent and attitude to be included in the team for the inaugural season was something special.
On this season and the future
I’ve definitely had to be patient and I’d be lying if I said at times it hasn’t been frustrating, but whenever I’m given the opportunity to go out there and perform remembering all that I and my wife have I’ve gone through to get here, I give it my best. I definitely believe I can be the number 1, I just continue to trust in God and then control what I can like working hard on the training pitch and showing the gaffer that I’m the best man for the job. After making my debut, these next few weeks are going to be really important but I’m more than ready for the challenge.