Interview with Jay Bothroyd
Background image: Warren Smith
Once upon a time in Kawasaki, I decided to pay Jay Bothroyd a visit at his hotel. The English striker's current club, Hokkaido Consadole Sapporo, were visiting the J.League Champions, Frontale. After navigating the complex greater Tokyo train system, I met with Jay and spoke to him about all things relating to his career.
You started your career within the Arsenal academy, how was that?
Being there at 11-years-old was fantastic. At the time, Arsenal was the best club in England. They offered the football education everyone wanted. It helped how all my family are Arsenal fans too. There were so many amazing players and coaches around the club. In particular, Thierry Henry, who I had a really good relationship with and still do today. But I always tried to model myself on Dennis Bergkamp. When I saw him play, I wanted to play just like him.
You went overseas early in your career. How did Italy treat you in 2003?
Perugia at the start was very challenging. I remember in pre-season being sent to this place in the mountains. It was beautiful but, for the entire training camp, none of the team or staff spoke English. I was there trying to learn Italian but it was very difficult. I remember calling my mates back home because I was so isolated there. At the time I was running up phone bills of like 7 or 8,000 euros.
When I got into the city of Perugia, I became a lot more comfortable with the cosmopolitan atmosphere. For me as well, Serie A was the best league in the world at the time.
I distinctly recall playing AC Milan as the third game of the season. I was in awe of their team. On the opposing side were [Paolo] Maldini, Kaka, Cafu, [Andriy] Shevchenko and [Andrea] Pirlo. I’d gone from watching them on channel 4 to playing against them! I went there inexperienced but came back a hardened man from such games.
More young English footballers are daring to go abroad nowadays. Would you recommend moving overseas earlier in their career to young players?
Definitely. It’s invaluable to get real game time. I say it to the Japanese lads here, too. In England, there’s literally no point in playing youth level football when you’re eligible for senior matches. Go out there and play with men who are playing for points and trophies. U23 or reserve level is pointless. That lad, Jadon Sancho, has proved that going abroad can be successful.
These days with the super clubs paying £90 million for one player, it can be hard for the academy boys to get a look in. I tell the young players here in Japan, don’t settle for the non-competitive games; go and play in J2 or J3. Play real games and learn something.
What do you think is the difference between your generation and this new crop of youngsters?
For me and a lot of my generation, we would put in the maximum effort to get the minimum reward. I’d train every day so the manager would at least think about putting me on the bench. These days, the reverse is true. You get big wages for being potential. I’ve heard of some lads who aren’t old enough to drive but bought a Mercedes or a Ferrari for their moms to take them to the train.
You moved to Asia well before the current trend. How did it happen?
I had been to Malaysia before with QPR and I just remembered how great it was. The weather was good and the stadiums had a vibe. The opportunity came up to move to Thailand with an English manager. I don’t want to be negative but the Thai league didn’t suit me at all. In as many words, I asked the club to tear up my contract.
Before I moved to Japan, I did a bit more research into the football culture and it’s really worked out. I’m really enjoying my time here. It’s easy to see why legends like Zico and Gary Lineker came here and why more are coming now.
How do Japanese fans compare to English?
It’s hard to compare really. England and even Europe, it’s hard for some people to contain their emotions. There are lots of people who have dedicated their lives to it. Sadly, some men get too drunk and if things don’t go to plan for their team, violence tends to bubble over.
Japanese fans are made up of all types of people. There are men, women and a lot of families. It’s entertainment here, they show enthusiasm in a completely different way which is a lot more positive.
How do you feel when the team is 7-0 down and the fans are still singing?
I remember that game. You know, the fans are fans. They are supportive until the end and there’s nothing wrong with that. For players who struggle with the pressures that supporters bring--I was fuming myself--but as a player, it’s great to have fans who continually cheer the team.
What about the language barrier here in Japan?
I feel like as a player there’s very little expectation for me to speak Japanese. They provide a translator for foreigners. I can talk to players on the pitch, but if you asked me to have a conversation with someone, I couldn’t do it.
At 37 years old and your contract expiring at the end of the season, what’s next?
I think for me being a foreigner and 37, it’s commonplace for me to have a one-year contract. I’ve not thought about retirement at all. I spend quite a bit of money to keep myself at the level I want. As long as I can still run past defenders, I’ll keep playing. If there is ever a time where my body can’t do the things my brain wants to do, then I’ll consider stopping. I do however know that when the time is right, I’ll retire in Japan.
I do like to work with people around football, I always try to talk to people such as yourself or coach the younger players. Maybe I’ll do something like that, but much later down the line.
It seems as if Jay Bothroyd will be playing for a while longer here in Japan. At present, the Hokkaido Consadole Sapporo is seventh in the J.League from 15 games. After missing out on the continental competition last year, the team will be hungry to right that wrong and chase the Asian Champions League spots. Bothroyd wants to lead the way.