Updated: Jun 20, 2020
We slid in to his dm’s. He replied. Which, in itself, was surprising given the blue tick residing next to his Instagram handle. The obtaining of which is an interesting rhetoric from his so-far solitary season in the Eredivise.
But despite that mark of verification, Leigh is as humble as they come. “Every match I get asked for my autograph but I think to myself ‘why? I’m just normal!’” The defender clearly doesn’t put himself on a pedestal. And, to me, as a supporter of Scottish football, who maintains that the connection between our players and supporters contributes to the disposition of our game north of the border, it was refreshing to see. Especially from a player who grew up amongst legends: “I remember when Aguero first signed for City”, Greg recalls. “When you first saw him, you were like ‘oh my god, that’s Aguero!’ But, after a few weeks, the awe wore off and he just became a teammate. I think that’s why I don’t really buy in to the celebrity lifestyle of a footballer.”
Greg and I arranged to meet in Aberdeen on the first Sunday of February to do a shoot and interview. Unfortunately, Connor, Stonewaller’s photographer, was suffering from the Scottish winter and couldn’t attend. But I still felt it made sense to travel up and ask some questions. I arrived early. After 10 minutes-or-so of waiting, a figure emerged through the granite buildings - as did two crutches. Maybe it was for the best the shoot was delayed - but I think that was mainly because Greg wanted to pattern up a trim first!
Anyway, Leigh’s time in Holland was cut short last summer, temporarily at least, when he signed for Aberdeen on a season-long loan - The Dons have the option to make it permanent. And whilst the Red Army wait with baited breath for developments on any potential deal, we thought we’d take Greg’s mind off the speculation and his rehabilitation with a whistle-stop tour of his career thus far. Our scheduled stop-offs include trips to Jamaica, Canada and the afore-mentioned Netherlands. But, for some, the best part of a holiday is the coming home. So let’s start with Leigh’s first. Strap in.
You were born and raised in Sale, a suburb in south-West Manchester. You signed for local boys club Sale United – what do you remember from your time spent there as a kid? So I was always a striker growing up! But I just remember romping everyone - our team was decent, to be fair! We used to win 8-0 or 9-0 every week. And it was from there that I got scouted by City.
But geographically, Sale is a lot closer to United than it is to City. Growing up, were you in the red or the blue corner? I was a red! I think I’m long enough out of City now to admit that!
In that case, did you have any reservations when signing for Manchester City? I was actually trialling for United at the time. But our Sale team were so good that we got a full team trial against City and, from that, City offered me a proper deal. So it was a no brainer really.
As you’ve mentioned, you were scouted as a striker. So how did the transition to left back come about and how long was it before it happened? It was a few years in actually. But, when I first went in to the academy, there were already four or five strikers, so I started out playing left wing. But when we made the move to 11-aside, we didn’t have enough defenders. So, because I enjoyed defending, unlike a lot of boys at 14-15, they asked me to play centre-half. And from there I moved out to left-back.
That’s not the only change that happened during your time at City as the club itself received substantial investment from their new Middle-Eastern owners – how was it watching that transition unfold at such close proximity? It was interesting! It was definitely slow at first. You’d see things change around the training ground at first, then you’d see foreign players be introduced to the club. We, as academy players, were assured that the way the club viewed their youth policy wouldn’t change as, traditionally, City are a very home-grown club. But obviously, looking at it now, it’s changed quite drastically. It was also interesting to see how the new investment impacted the players in the academy. I remember the first contracts given out after all the money arrived, they were giving out big, big deals to young guys - that really changed the dynamic in our dressing room and between players. But obviously, the facilities improved, coaching improved. But it was always everyone’s dream to be an academy graduate. You saw players on the board who had done it in the past - Kieran Trippier, Micah Richards, Stephen Ireland - that definitely became harder to do when the money came in.
That’s one thing I wanted to ask you. For you personally, did you have mixed emotions about the investment being put in to the club? Whilst you wanted to see the club enjoy success and train in the best possible facilities, your chances of reaching the first team would diminish with the likes of Gael Clichy and Alaksander Kolarov signing for the club. At that point, I was maybe slightly too young to start worrying about the first-team. I just continued to play with the academy and looked to progress through the youth teams as the way they release players is very cut-throat.
You certainly did that as you were nominated for the academy’s player of the year award in the 12-13 season as well as gaining international recognition with the England U19’s in January 2013 – did you think you were making strides to get in to the first team picture at that point? Kind of. Although I think I was more realistic about my chances. I played with Denis Suárez and Karim Rekik who were quality players and physically, fully grown men at 17, 18. Even those guys weren’t getting a sniff. So I realised that it probably wasn’t my path anymore. Despite that, I just wanted to play a game to boost my CV going forward. I was almost involved in a Capital One Cup game; but was let down last minute. I had trained all week and Kolarov was injured, so I travelled with the squad, ate dinner with them, stayed at the hotel, had breakfast the following morning - then in walks Kolarov! Which meant he was on the bench and I was pushed to the stands. So I was very close.
Despite that near inclusion, you went on loan to Crewe Alexandra at the beginning of the 2014-15 season – did you feel that was best for your development at that stage? I’d say definitely. I needed experience. I had a good year with the academy under Patrick Viera, I learnt a lot; I learnt the theory of the game. We had a strong team that year but we just missed out on silverware; I think that was seen as the end of the road for a lot of the players in that side. And I was one of them - I needed to go out and get games under my belt. As, in my opinion, there’s a big difference between youth football and senior football. The need to go out on loan is less so now for players at the bigger clubs in England with the new format of the EFL Trophy, but we didn’t have that back then.
You played 42 times for Crewe that year and scored the goal of the season but were released by Manchester City upon the expiry of your loan deal – how tough was that to take? Nah, that was a tough one to take. More just because of the manner in which it happened. So it happened in the January. I was misled a lot; they offered me the opportunity to sign for New York City on loan as part of the affliction. But then they realised they had to offer me a new deal as my contract was expiring, so that was taken off the table - that was really frustrating. Then, when it came to finding out I wasn’t getting a new contract, it was my agent that told me as opposed to the club. But, that’s football; it happens. I’ve seen a lot worse since then. It was just frustrating. And scary; I was no longer under the umbrella of City - it was just me on my own from that point. So it was a bit of a nerve-wracking time. I then found myself in a relegation battle with Crewe, trying to find form after a big knock of confidence. So that was a tough period.
When you’re going through a tough period like that, who do you turn to for advice? Well my mum and dad were great for me in that period - we are quite a vocal family! But my mum suggested I get a sports psychologist, so I gave it a try. But that really, really helped me.
Would you recommend that to players who are also going through a tough period in their careers? Definitely. It takes you out of your own headspace and helps you develop positive thought patterns - that was a big thing for me. Also, a lot of the things the psychologist told me I use in my everyday life as well as football.
Overall, How do you look back at your time with City? I was a bit bitter for a few years. Just because I felt we weren’t given opportunities - that doesn’t just go for me but the players around me as well. As I’ve said, we had a good squad. But we were just viewed as a team that was ready to be moved on as opposed to given a chance. That’s still the case even now. Other than one player, Phil Foden, there’s been no youth team players brought in to the fold in the last five or six years.
With that in mind, what do you think is the biggest stumbling block for a kid at City trying to break through? Probably the investment. When you virtually have the pick of the world’s best talent, it’s difficult for the manager to pick a young player over these big money signings. You look at Angelino, he was moved on, played well for PSV and was brought back - he still can’t get a game! So probably that. Also, the club have such high expectations now of winning every week and every trophy which has probably pushed the development to one side. That said, when I heard the news that Pep was going in, I was interested to see what he would do with the younger players as he has a history of giving opportunities to kids.
Just on the arrival of Pep, were you left kicking yourself that you never stayed long enough to work with him? Nah, probably not - I had to start my career. Whilst it would have been good to work with him, ultimately, I felt like I had learnt a lot in my time in senior football.
I want to skip a couple of years to the end of the 2018 season. You had just been relegated with Bury from League 1 at 23 years old – how difficult was that season? That season was difficult for so many reasons! When you get relegated, it’s interesting to see how other players react to failure. My reaction to failure is very much that I want to put it right. But, in Bury’s case, there wasn’t a lot more I could have done; I performed consistently well throughout the year. The club had three or four managers that season, bringing in players who didn’t impact the squad in a positive way, spending money on players who weren’t good enough - those are all things I couldn’t affect and those were major factors in seeing the club relegated. Whilst, yeah, it still was my team and I share the responsibility of being relegated, for me, I did everything I could and gave it my best.
And just touching on Bury for a second, how was it watching the events unfold that took place at the start of the current season? Tough, man. Whilst a lot of the players I played with had left, it’s still hard to watch. In football, you’re at the mercy of whoever owns the club. At Bury, the owner wasn’t an honourable guy - he never did right by the players, the staff or the fans - to pass that on to someone who was even worse was a real shame. It’s sad to see it all go to waste; the town will suffer, the people will suffer. So yeah, it’s a real shame.
That summer you signed for NAC Breda, how did that move come about? So NAC have a relationship with City, and City, over the years, have been creating this huge database of players with loads of information. NAC, at that point, were looking for an athletic left back who had games under their belt, still young and with an academy background. So I obviously fit the bill for that. There was myself and a few others who they were targeting but, I was out of contract and wouldn’t command a transfer fee, well, outside of England anyway as I was under 24, so I just became the most logical target.
And what was your primary reason for heading to the Eredivise? Did you consciously want to experience a new country and culture or was it driven more by the standard of football? It was more a case of my agents not doing a good job for me; I recently split with the same agents through business differences. But I was kept very much in the dark that summer - it was still the end of June when I had nothing sorted. As we mentioned, I was under 24, so, if I was to sign for a club in England, it would need to go to a tribunal and the club would need to pay a fee for me; so I was a bit panicked. But, looking back, it was a great decision because it was Eredivisie football. People look at that and say “oh you played in the top league in Holland”. I saw it as an opportunity to go out there and have an impact at NAC as teams in England take note of that - look at Steven Bergwijn just signing for Tottenham. So, as I was rushed in to it, the move was good for me and it definitely taught me a lot.
There seems to be a real trend developing in recent years of young British ballers heading overseas on the back of Jadon Sancho’s success at BvB. The Dutch league has also paved the way for other British youngsters to kickstart their careers – the most notable being Mason Mount at Vitesse – what did you set as your objectives for the 18-19 season? It was just to play as many games as possible. But I also felt I could bring my physicality to, in my opinion, a bit of a passive league. In England, it’s win at all cost whereas, in Holland, I found it was nice football at all cost. Which was fine. But I felt that, if I could bring that physicality to the team, I could really stand out from the crowd.
I actually attended one of the games you were involved in during that season as I took in Ajax 5-0 NAC Breda - I’ve got here: ‘thankfully you were an unused substitute that day’ (Trust me!). But how was it being part of matchday squads at teams like Ajax, Fyernoord and PSV after four years in England’s third tier? Yeah, it was good. When I looked back at my career at that point, I personally felt I had suffered a fair amount of bad luck; a relegation battle with Crewe, at Bradford I did my best but I couldn’t get in the squad and then two years of relegation battles with Bury, one of which we lost. So I saw it as a bit of a reward for those hard times to go and play in fifty-thousand seater stadiums. I was thrown in the deep end with it which was good, I had to sink or swim. But I never got to play in as many games as I’d like. I got to play at Vitesse away and Feyenoord, which was good, but I wasn’t involved in the other games. The manager was just…. yeah!
I think I know what you mean! But, from a culture point of view, what were the main differences you noticed from professional football in the UK? Lots of things! Mainly, though, the relationship with the manager and the players. There’s an element of respect that exists in the UK, whereby, me and you say, we’ll talk man to man and figure out the best way to move forward. In Holland, it’s more of teacher/student kind of vibe. It’s a case of ‘you do this because I told you to do it’. I wasn’t a massive fan of that. I was 24. I know how I train and how my body works. When they refused to acknowledge that it stressed me out a little bit. Footballing wise, they just love to play! So say I picked up the ball, dribbled past two or there players and put in a cross, the manager wouldn’t be happy with that. He wanted to play it inside, pass and move. In Holland, they prefer to score a goal after fifteen passes than scoring from an early, long-range shot. And whilst their technical ability is very good, they might not make the right decision; they don’t pass the ball at the right weight or at the right pace. I think that’s their Achilles heel when they come up against teams from the UK, who’s decision making is better and faster.
How about fashion in Holland? You are wearing a Patta number in one of the shots from today. The Patta brand started in Amsterdam – so how did you find the fashion and street wear styles compared to what you knew back home? It’s interesting! They show out, man! They wear a lot of designer stuff - everyone wants the latest trend, everyone wants the nicer brands, everyone looks clean cut. So yeah, I was impressed!
How about the fans? Was the atmosphere different to England? I’m not sure you would see a ghostbusters tifo at Crewe or Bradford! So what was your rapport like with the club’s fans? I had a very, very good relationship with the fans. If anything, they were the people who got me through the year; they just took to me. I remember the exact moment it started as I done a flick through my legs to beat a player and then the whole stadium just started chanting “LEIGH! LEIGH! LEIGH!”. Every time I got the ball after that the whole stadium would just shout “LEIGH! LEIGH! LEIGH!”, like that - and it didn’t stop! They just loved me and I massively appreciated that. I think it was because of my direct style; I would just run at people - I think they liked that. Also, we weren’t winning at the time. When I started playing we started winning; they just took to me. A couple of NAC fans actually brought a poster with my face on it to Aberdeen - mad!
One player who signed for NAC Breda in the January window was English winger Sullay KaiKai – did having Sullay around help you feel more settled in the second half of that season? Definitely. I was very frustrated in Holland because I just didn’t click with the manager as he was very pro-Dutch. So to have someone from home that I could vibe with was great for me. Myself, Sullay and a few other European lads who weren’t playing because of that just stuck together and got each other through the season.
Was it someone other than the manager bringing in these players then? Yeah. So, in Holland, you have a Technical Director and a Head Coach - the Technical Director brings the players in and the Head Coach manages the players. It’s like that at some clubs in the UK but it’s predominantly a manager signing players for the team because he needs them and wants to work with them. So myself and Sullay were brought in by the Technical Director and then had to suffer from a coach who didn’t want to play us. It’s mad, because Sullay would be the best player in training and just wouldn’t get an opportunity.
Did you not get the chance to pre-warn Sullay before he signed? I never got the chance; I think his deal was done pretty quickly. But I made him aware as soon as he arrived which he appreciated.
You mentioned you got close with some of the non-Dutch players in the squad. If you guys wanted to go out for a few beers after a game, could you do that? And where would you go? Could you do it in Breda? Yeah, we’d go Breda. People were cool, there was never any trouble; people would just ask for pictures and stuff. We went to the casino from time to time - just because there’s nothing else to do!
At the end of that season, NAC were relegated to the second tier after finishing bottom of the league. You’ve been quoted as saying you felt the move to the Netherlands didn’t work out for you – we’ve touched on the manager being pro-Dutch not helping your cause, but were there any other reasons why you felt the move didn’t work out? Yeah, there were loads of reasons! Like…. my agents. I think that, when we done the deal, we didn’t quite figure out the ins and outs of the contract; I was actually paying a huge amount of my wage in to a Dutch pension scheme. It was called a Bridging Pension, it’s designed to help players when they bridge the gap between retiring from football and entering the workplace. But that was one third of my wage! That meant, financially, it was a tough year for me; I was paying a lot to live there - its expensive in Holland! I was paying for a car back in England, I was still paying for my house at home too; so that was difficult. Another factor was the training - it was outrageous! We had a guy who was so fixed on running stats; one or two times a week we’d have sessions where we wouldn’t even touch a ball, we’d just run! We did sessions when we’d run 12k - in a game you run 10-11k. But we’d do a morning session then run 12k in the afternoon - by the time we got to a game, your legs would be gone. So the training style definitely didn’t help.
What about living away from friends and family - was that difficult for you to cope with? It was to an extent. I was actually quite surprised how well I managed to keep in touch with everybody. I was allowed to go home every international break which was really good. And needed! My friends came over to see me. So it wasn’t as hard as I thought it was going to be. I jammed with the boys, we did our thing, it was cool. It only got difficult at around March time when I separated from my agency; who made it very difficult for me to find new agents. That meant I had to do a lot of the work myself. That was a big burden. But, now that I’ve done that, I feel I can do anything.
If a fellow professional asked you for advice on a move to a foreign league, what would you tell them? Do your research. Find out a little bit about the coach, if you can. That’s what I should have done. Also, make sure you know what you’re signing up for within the contract. The pension scheme I entered in to was written in very vague terms; if I had seen it for what it was, I would have saved myself a struggle. I wouldn’t go against them moving abroad, but just remember that, when you go to those countries, being English can result in you being unfavored by the manager. That said, I think you can find that in the UK as well; more so further down the ladder. In League 1 say, we had a boy on loan from Bournemouth who was Romanian and he just didn’t get a sniff. If the manager has an English boy who is knocking on his door, causing him a headache versus a young guy on loan who barely speaks English, the manager will take the easy way out to avoid the grief. So just be wary.
You then signed for Aberdeen in the summer of 2019 on a seasons loan which includes an option for The Dons to make it permanent. From hearing what Derek McInness had to say when you signed, though, it sounded like it wasn’t his first attempt to sign you.. I was supposed to come in the January, yeah. But they were offered Max back, so it fell through.
How have you found it up in Scotland? Has the Premiership surprised you in any way? Not really. I think I was ready for it. It was good to play at Ibrox - that was my first experience of playing in front of fifty-thousand in the UK - although it was a difficult day that day!
And did you realise how big a club Aberdeen was prior to signing? Nah, not really! I knew it was the third biggest and I knew they were a big side. But I never realised how prominent the Scottish league is! People are very, very focused on it up here which is nice; it makes you feel there’s a proper spotlight on you. That can only be good for my reputation in the game.
One aspect of that is being able to offer players European football. Despite it being the qualifiers, how was your first taste of the Europa League? Aw it was great! Yeah really, really good. But it was equally just very frustrating. I injured my ankle in a friendly so I couldn’t play in the first three games. I then rushed back to feature in the fourth, fifth and sixth, but I just wish it came slightly later! But it was a good time. I scored on my debut in the Europa League which was exciting. Then we went and beat Hearts on the opening day which was exciting. So yeah, it was a really good start for me at the club; especially off the back of a season with limited playing time.
The changing room at the club has a strong English contingent; have they helped you settle in to the club and the city since you joined? The Aberdeen dressing room is the best one I’ve been involved in; they’ve been so welcoming, so cool, always making sure everything is alright. I will never forget what they’ve done for me. The city has been good for me as well; it’s easy for me to get home too which is good - a lot easier than Holland!
Despite you being a United fan, there are a couple of boys in the team who support City - specifically Sam Cosgrove and Shay Logan. Shay Logan started his career at City just as you did - has he been a big influence on you since you arrived? Shay was cool. Shay was a lot of the reason that I joined the club actually. The manager let me call him when I was deciding to sign for the club. So I phoned him up and he told me he has really enjoyed his time at Aberdeen, so that made the decision easier. Shay and I are very similar in a lot of ways: we play in a similar position, as you said, we were brought through at the same academy, he actually stays 5 minutes from me in Manchester! But his career path was very similar to mines, so talking to him was very good for me. And since I’ve came up, it’s been exactly as he said it would be - it’s been cool.
Who are you closest to in the team? I was very close with Zak Vyner, so it was a bit of a blow when Zak’s loan deal ended. Myself, Zak and Jon Gallagher were tight. We done a lot as a three. Sam Cosgrove would come with from time-to-time as well.
What about family? Do they come up to visit often? Yeah! They have been up three or four times which has been good for me as well.
You’ve been living away from Manchester now for two seasons. One thing I wanted to ask you about was the emergence of the city’s new sub-culture. In the last 2-3 years, artists like IAMDDB, Children of Zeus and Aitch have risen to prominence to add to the success of Bugzy Malone. You’ve also got London based artists who fly the Manchester flag; a bunch support Manchester United whilst guys like Lancey Foux and 23 Unofficial support Manchester City. When you go back home now, do you see a shift in the city’s landscape to this new wave and away from the stereotypical Oasis, Stone Roses scene? Aw, definitely man. For me, Manchester has always been divided up in to segments: you’ve got Spinningfields, which is your fancy, dress-up kind of spot; you’ve got Northern Quarter where people are on more of a hipster vibe, you’ve got Gay Village, you’ve got Locks… every time I go back to Manchester, the city just gets bigger and bigger. There’s a lot more variety now, there’s a lot more going on. When you go to Northern Quarter now, you’ve got vegan restaurants, burger joints, there’s this, there’s that. So, when it comes to going out, you have a wider demographic which allows for people to be a lot more specific. If you go out in a smaller city, it’s one size fits all, one type of music. But Manchester has always been massive for the music. I’ve been in to going to gigs from, like, early. There’s a new club every time I go back now too - it’s mad! So, with that in mind, it’s given a platform to artists in the city to be up and coming as they can hit their target audiences. Before, they were having to fit themselves in. Being able to stream music now has helped as well.
The emergence of the UK’s trap and drill scene has really forged a bond with football and music. Have you had much interaction with the guys mentioned above? It’s interesting you ask that actually because Ramz got in touch with me the other day! He was up here for a show and we had a little bit of chat, and that was just through playing for Aberdeen. But, when it comes to football and rap and drill music, I think the connection comes from being role models in your respective field. There’s a mutual respect for what you’re doing whilst both of us are still on the same vibe, given we like what the other group is doing.
I know what you mean. And I think that most footballers would like to experience the life of a musician and visa-versa. Exactly! But both groups appreciate the hard work that goes in to what we do. Footballers work hard at training, rappers go hard for hours on end in the studio. That similarity definitely creates a bond whilst still remaining envious of the other! So, yeah, that definitely creates a mutual respect. Also, the culture is very similar these days. Not to get too political but there’s a lot of black footballers and there’s a lot of black rappers. So, for the culture, it’s good that we’re out here doing something and having an influence. Look at Stormzy, for instance, there’s no way that a grime artist would have that platform way back when. So it’s a good step in the right direction.
100%. So which artists in particular do you like to listen to? Before a game, it’s got to be hard rap! So like, Drake, Kendrick, J. Cole, Meek Mill….. Meek Mill - “Dreams and Nightmares” every game! In terms of the UK, I’m a fan of AJ Tracey, Dave - lyrically he is bang on - I like a bit of Giggs and Skepta as well.
That leads me nicely to my next question. Scotland’s underground music scene tends to be based primarily in Glasgow who played host to Skepta and Giggs shows virtually back to back late last year. Do you ever make it down to see any shows? Me and Zak were actually looking at Krept & Konan recently but we had games. We’re actually looking to see Stormzy out in Toronto. But I’m yet to go down to Glasgow for a show - it’s a long way to get down and back up in one night.
We’ve touched on Patta and dutch streetwear above, but how would you describe your own style? Well, I had to take a bit of time out from it with the whole not having any dough thing in Holland! But, I like to be slightly different with my style. With that said, though, if I was to go out in some of the things I like to wear, it would be difficult to get in!
I’ve suffered from that before! Do you know what I mean?! Even trainers, man! So I can sometimes feel a little bit boxed in. Either that or there is no respect for it. People would just be like, ‘what are you wearing?!’ So it’s more when I go abroad that I like to show out a little bit more…. velvet bombers and all that kind of stuff!
And, if you wanted a new ‘fit, where would you shop? I like Zara. Selfridges is good. But I wouldn’t go out and buy like a D-Squared tee for £200; Zak does it man! Balenciaga, two hundred quid! I’m like “Bruv”! I’m clumsy, though. So I would mash up the tee! (Laughs) I like to mix and match my clothes, though. I would pair up something from Urban Outfitters and something from AllSaints. From the outside, that wouldn’t go, but I like to make it work to find a style that suits me.
Lastly, if you could choose one player you’ve played with to accompany you down a cat walk that you’ve played with… who would it be? It would have to be my boy: Marcus Haber.
Marcus Haber?! Wait til Falkirk fans hear that… Oh really? (Laughs) But he gave me confidence to be a bit more out there when I first started changing up my style. Anytime I wore something that was a bit like “Yo!” he would give me the encouragement to just do me. So, for that, I would say Marcus.
My initial set of questions actually finished here. But Greg and I got on to the subject of hair; something which attracted me to this feature in the first place. So, naturally, I started a new recording. Here’s what we spoke about in an unstructured Part II over a coffee in the shadow of Aberdeen’s Marischal College.
Talk to me about the development of your hairstyle. So I had grown my hair out a little bit just for something different. One day, I sat twisting it on the way home from training and just forgot about it. Later that day, I answered the door to my neighbour and he was like, ‘your hair looks good!’ So from that point onwards I used to spend 4 hours every Friday wetting and twisting my hair in to little bobbles! Oh my god, it used to take ageees, man!
Ready for the match day? Yeah! But then it got longer and longer to the point I just couldn’t do it. So I had to ask if anyone knew how to keep them in.
Did that take some nerve to come forward and ask that? Given you were trying something new? A little bit. Now I’m older, I don’t really have a problem with it. But, at the time, I was a little apprehensive as I wasn’t sure how it was going to look! I like to ask people’s opinion, though; I trust my circle of mates - they’re fresh guys.
Did any of your friends have that hairstyle at the time? Nah, no one had it. The only person I could find that had the style I was going for was Batshuayi - he had the high-top dreads. Nowadays, it’s like everyone’s got them! So I would like to say I was a little bit ahead of the trend! But it changed everything. It made me feel more confident in myself. I also didn’t have to go for trims every week so I saved a bit of dough - that came in handy over in Holland! Girls love it…. the difference, bro! (Laughs)
It just makes you stand out a bit more as well, doesn’t it? Exactly, man. But whilst still not being too out there. That’s how I would describe myself and my style; I want to be a little bit different but I don’t want to take it too far. So yeah, I did that, added a little bit of colour which I think represents me as well.
On that, tell us about your heritage. Yeah, that’s true actually; I should talk about that! So I’m actually in the process of trying to play for Jamaica. I only went out there for the first time about two years ago to visit family, and went back across again recently. That’s been massive for me as I never really had a relationship or a bond with the country when I was growing up. So to have the opportunity to play for Jamaica now is a real blessing.
You said you’re in the process of trying to play for the West Indies country, is there anything that’s blocking it at the moment? I just need a passport. I’m working on that just now so, hopefully, if I can get that sorted, I can be involved in the international break in March - thats the plan anyway!
That’s really exciting! Yeah it is! If it works out, I’ll be really excited to get going.
I know we’ve touched on music already but Jamaica is blessed with a lot of talent in that field. - Koffee recently featured on J Hus’ album - are you a fan of hers? Yeah, yeah I love Koffee! And J Hus, man, I forgot about him earlier! He’s sick, man.
I actually saw J Hus at Parklife in Manchester. Have you ever made it down to your home city’s festival? Every year it’s been pre-season! I really want to go, though - there and Wireless! I’m desperate to go.
You obviously have quite a structured schedule being a footballer, but you do get a lot of free time as well. What do you and the boys at Aberdeen do after training? We play a lot of Call of Duty! It’s good when you’ve got a lot of boys. A lot of us are at it! I also brought a piano up with me. When I was in Holland, I was mad bored, so I decided to make a bit of music. But I realised that, if you can play piano, you can make more music as you understand chords and the way music is written. So I need to get in touch with a piano teacher! But, right now, I’m just picking up songs. I also like to sing a little bit. I also play guitar and drums.
Was Ramz getting in touch for a collaboration?! I don’t know man! I’m trying, I’m trying! (Laughs)
It’s actually becoming quite customary for players to showcase their musical talents. Stephane Omeonga at Hibs dropped a video of himself playing the Braveheart theme tune on his piano that was very well received - especially in Scotland! Elsewhere, you’ve got English rapper Kamakaze, who plays for Dagenham & Redbridge, Memphis Depay also released a music video for a song… it’s definitely more common nowadays. Yeah definitely, man. It’s nice to think you can branch out a little bit. You’ll always get the suggestion that you should focus on playing football. But, as you grow, the way I look at it now, being slightly older, is that I can still be a footballer and be me at the same time. Social media is good for that, for sure.
Tell us about the kind of music you like to play on the piano. I’m very eclectic with my music taste; I like a bit of Bruno Mars but I also love a bit of 70’s as well.
Really?! Yeah, man! I’m a huge Motown fan. In Manny, there’s Motown clubs so it’s an accessible genre. Although you can’t always convince everyone! But who doesn’t like some Michael Jackson or Stevie Wonder?
On the subject of Michael Jackson, can you mix it on the dance floor? I can dance. I wouldn’t go ‘watch me dance’! But, if there’s music on, I can move.
Can that be said for the rest of the Aberdeen boys? Are there any players that stand out at either end of the dance spectrum? I’m tryna think! I can’t think of any bad ones. Mikey Devlin can move, though! Myself and Zak Vyner were killing it at the Christmas night out… even Curtis Main can move a little bit!
Last question, when did the blue tick happen? Oh when I was at Breda! Mate, I was so buzzing! So we had a guy at the club who was notorious for getting the boys a blue tick. So I hit him up! A few weeks later, I went on Instagram to find I’d gotten one - that was probably the best thing to come out of Holland, man! (Laughs)
Words: Scott Kelly
Photography: Connor Stewart
Styling: Scott Kelly / Greg Leigh