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Jake refused to take safe option in pursuit of success

In-depth interview with Dons striker signed on loan from Luton Town

17 October 2018

A move to the Turkish top-flight left his football career in limbo, but Jake Jervis has never been one to accept the safe option in life, and at the age of 27 that hasn't changed.

The experienced forward, who can play right across the front line, was interviewed for the Portsmouth match day programme and this is reproduced in full below. 

Jake, who joined us from Luton just before the loan window closed on 31 August, revealed that he had other options – including joining a club closer to where he was brought up in the Midlands – but he decided to choose Wimbledon.

"I had a few options, but I decided to come here because of the manager. I've played against Wimbledon quite a few times, and I know players who have worked with him. I'd spoken with him and I knew how much he liked me as a player. That faith in my ability was why I wanted to come here.

"It was the same when I joined Luton. I was on the verge of joining Walsall, but I decided to go to Luton. At the age of 27, I could have gone closer to home and it would have been easier, but I wanted to challenge myself and do the best for my career. At Luton I haven't played as much as I would have liked, but at my age – you only have so many years in the game – I want to play somewhere that's best for my career."

That was certainly the case when in January 2013 Jake made the life-changing decision to move to Turkey. A dream start at Elazığspor included a goal in a 2–2 draw at Fenerbahçe, but a bad injury led to the move turning sour – and one of the most challenging times in his career.

"I came back to Birmingham in January 2013 after having a spell at Portsmouth, and scouts from the Turkish club came and watched me. They'd come to watch a different player, but I got a random call from them. I didn't think anything of it, but they put in a bid. It was definitely an experience! To start with, it was great out there. The fans are crazy, and playing against teams like Galatasary and Fenerbahçe was great.

"My first game was at Fenerbahçe, and I scored there. That was a big highlight of my career. It was a hostile atmosphere, but we managed to draw 2–2. I was playing well there, but we had a bit of a mid-season break. Unfortunately, in a friendly I broke my foot and I didn't come back until the last three games. That was when the saga began. I wasn't paid over the summer or coming into pre-season either. In all I wasn't paid for four months, and it was only a few months ago that I got what I was owed! They cancelled my contract a day after the English transfer deadline, so I couldn't join another team. I went about ten months without pay. I couldn't play until the following January, so it was about seven months in total.

"It was a tough time in my life. When my contract was cancelled it wasn't done in time for me to register in England. That was a difficult time for me and my partner. I was just training in a local park, but I also had a spell training with Sheffield United because I knew Lee Carsley. They wanted to sign me, but I couldn't keep travelling because I wasn't getting paid. I matured a lot as a person because of it all it, and I've made decisions since that I probably wouldn't have made if none of that had happened. It helped me off the field and gave me a sense of perspective."

Jake's wait for his chance back in English football ended on 9 January 2014 at Portsmouth, where he had previously played on loan. He scored four goals in 15 games, and that led to a move to Ross County. There he was first managed by current Plymouth manager Derek Adams, who has been a big influence on his career.

"I ended up going up to play in Scotland with Derek Adams, and it was because of him that I signed for Plymouth. Whether it was Ross County, Plymouth, or anywhere else, I was just happy to be playing again after all that had happened. Moving to Plymouth was one of the best decisions I ever made. I was going to join another team from Ross County, but Derek came in for me and it was a no-brainer to link up with him again. From the start of my spell at Plymouth, it was good to know that a manager had signed me again and that I was coming back into English football. I had a little one by then, and family always comes first. I always think that as long as you work hard, the football will take care of itself."

Jake's three years with the Green Army included that play-off final defeat at Wembley against the Dons, but a season later he played a key role in Plymouth's promotion to League One. Still warmly remembered by Plymouth supporters, he was pleased to receive a special welcome back at Home Park earlier this month, though he was disappointed the result didn't go Wimbledon's way.

"I thought I'd get a good ovation at Plymouth, but what happened took me aback. Even in the pre-match warm-up I was being clapped by the fans, and afterwards they were singing my name. I enjoyed going back there – it was just disappointing that we didn't get a result on the day."

Jake certainly had no problems finding the back of the net while he was at Plymouth. He's yet to open his account for Wimbledon, but he has come very close to scoring in recent games, and he maintains his belief in his ability in front of goal.

"I feel I'm playing well, and it's just the goals that are missing. As a team, that's the difficult thing at the moment. Yes, we are moving the ball around nicely and doing well, but we're having lapses in concentration and finding ourselves 1–0 down. It's tough at the moment.

"I can play anywhere across the front, whether that's left, right or centre. I'll play wherever the manager wants me to do a job for the team, utilising my attributes. If I'm out wide, I can use my pace to beat a man, and if I'm playing as a striker I can try to get in behind, and I'm a good finisher. Hopefully, if I keep doing what I'm doing, the goals will come. I've always scored goals throughout my career, so it's not something I worry about. If I keep getting in the positions, then I will score. I just have to keep playing well and everything else will fall into place.

"You hear quite a lot about the AFC Wimbledon story, particularly when there's a game against a certain other team. If you look at it now, one team is doing better than the other, so that's good for people here. I met a few of the supporters after the last home game, and they welcome you into the ground before games. I think I've had a good reception here, and I'm just going to keep trying my best. Hopefully, that's good enough for the fans."

There was never going to be any other career for Jake – but at first he kept his footballing talents a secret from his mother! 

"I had a ball around me from when I was two or three. I first played for a local team called Dawley Wanderers, which was close to my home. I think they've folded now. I took myself up there when I was five. There was a little field I used to play on, which had a bank leading up to where they trained at the top. I was playing with older boys in the team, and then one day the coach came around to our house. He knocked on our door and said, 'Can you get Jake some boots? He keeps slipping over!' My mum asked what he was on about as I hadn't told her I was playing.

"I stayed with them for a few years, and then I went to Wolves. I got picked up when I was 10 in one of those summer tournaments you play in. I went to training there, and then signed. I used to go to Wolves games when I was a kid – they were my team. But I got released by Wolves when I was 14 – I was going through those gangly growth spurts, and my body was all over the place! I went to Shrewsbury, attending their centre of excellence. I did well, and I had a few clubs trying to buy me. I accepted the chance to go to Birmingham after going there for a week to see if I liked it. They had to sort out a fee, but I eventually signed for Birmingham when I was 15."

Jake was handed his first-team debut by then Birmingham City manager Alex McLeish. It was a great experience for a young lad trying to make his way in the game. "Before I went to Birmingham I was playing just because I enjoyed football, not really concentrating on making it. I was always confident that I was a good footballer. It was totally different when I joined Birmingham because I was full-time. I was training with the first team at 16, and it becomes more real and serious at that stage. It's not that the fun goes out of it, but you realise that you have to knuckle down and focus. You need to do all the little things that give you a chance to become a professional footballer.

"At Birmingham when I started they had players like Olivier Kapo, who was a France international. I was there when they won the League Cup, but they also got relegated in the same season. Alex McLeish gave me my debut, but Terry Westley was academy manager and he was probably the biggest influence on my football career. He helped me learn the game so that I had a chance to become a professional footballer. He was a father-figure, and I still speak to him.

"My debut came at Everton, it was a good experience as I came on as a substitute with about 11 minutes to go, and we won the game 2–1. After making my debut, I went on loan to Hereford and I got a few goals. I also went on loan to Notts County. I've had quite a few loan spells! Swindon was the one where I started to score goals and do really well. I signed a new deal at Birmingham, but it was one of those situations when I wasn't really getting what I needed at the time, as I was on the bench and not playing. That's why I decided to go to Turkey."

Though that move eventually didn't work out, Jake feels he's stronger for the experience, and he's determined to make the most of his latest loan move at Wimbledon.

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