As a young kid growing up in Bermondsey, Jordon Ibe knew he only ever wanted to do one thing: become a professional footballer.
Ibe’s dream became a reality far quicker than anyone really expected, making his professional debut for Wycombe Wanderers while he was still a schoolboy, stepping out onto the pitch at just 15 years and 244 days old. He was tipped as one of the brightest young talents in the country, and represented a new type of English footballer – one who possessed pace and technique, ahead of grit and passion.
Now playing in a free-flowing Bournemouth team, Ibe recently returned to his south London roots with Nike as the brand launched a series of new partnerships aimed to get the city’s next generation playing sport.
We caught up with the lightning-fast forward to talk about the importance of sport to London’s next generation, his love of street football, and his journey to Premier League baller.
COMPLEX: What were your earliest experiences of playing football as a young kid?
Jordon Ibe: It was always in the cage when I was young. My dad used to take me out and play when I was four or five-years-old and I started playing with the bigger boys when I was around seven or eight and it really kicked on from there. I never remember not playing football.
What are your favourite memories of those times?
It was just so passionate! None of us were professionals and some were young, some were older than me, but none of us ever wanted to lose – we treated every game like a Champions League final, literally! We’d play for hours and hours, a lot longer than the 90 minutes you see me playing now. We’d come out at 3pm once school finished and probably wouldn’t be home until 9pm that same night...it was what we loved to do.
Why did you want to come out today and meet these young athletes? Why do you think sport is so important to the next generation?
I think sport is important for young people because it’s the biggest thing in the world – it keeps people fit, everyone loves it, and it’s everywhere. Whether you’re playing football or you’re track athlete – whatever it is – it’s a good thing to be involved in, especially for young kids in all sorts of areas, it’s good to get them off the streets and doing something that makes them happy. There’s a lot of talent out there and if they start now, they could end becoming a professional in whatever it is they choose to do.
What was your journey like from kid on the street to professional footballer?
It was very difficult – especially on my family’s behalf, they were the ones that took me to training late at night and games all over the country...my sister was still in a pram! It was a lot of travelling but it’s paid off. It’s all about hard work and having an elite mentality, as well as the support from friends and family to achieve your dreams.
How much are your enjoying your football with Bournemouth right now?
Yeah I’m enjoying it and I’m sure there’s a lot more to come from us. It’s been a good season for the team and next season can be even better.
English football is in a really good place right now and there’s some exciting young talent, especially in London. Why do you think that is?
I think a lot of is from the England manager giving belief to young players at all ages. You can see there’s a lot of young players in the senior team right now and you can see it’s benefitting them – they’re winning and the future looks good.
What are you into away from the pitch when you’re not kicking ball?
Spending time with my family – my little one – and shopping.
Jordon Ibe was speaking in Crystal Palace as Nike announced a series of new partnerships to get young Londoners moving. Find out more here.