Creative Soccer Culture

Jack Grealish Talks Family, Villa And The Love Of An Away Day

Jack Grealish is out there on his own. A creative talisman who is dedicated and committed to his club, his love for Aston Villa is a rare kind of fandom usually reserved for those in the stands and not so much those in the middle of the park. Playing his way to the top and becoming a captain, we discuss his past, future and the legacy he is creating along with the importance of his family as he gives us a rare insight into what makes him, him.

When you type Jack Grealish into google, the first word that comes up after your name is 'hair'. Tell us when and why you first started having this haircut or when you started expressing yourself through your hair…

It started when I was about seventeen, I don’t know what made me do it to be honest. I needed a change up from what I had before and ever since, I’ve kept it this way and I think it’s become a bit of a trademark around Birmingham, especially with the Villa fans.

Did you get many comments on it in the early days?

Not really back then. Obviously I wasn’t as well known back then. I was a young kid then and people just kind of expected that sort of thing. Obviously now I get a lot more stick for it and a lot of comments.

What about coaches, did you have anyone back then telling you to “get your hair cut”?

[laughs] Coaches were fine with me to be honest. You probably expect some of the more stern coaches to say something but they were all fine. I got on well with a lot of them.

Over the years there’s been all kinds of headlines. What’s it like on a human level when your profile grows and you get more of a taste of fame? Is it surreal that there’s so many eyes on what you’re doing?

Not not really, obviously I’ve been around it now quite a while and I know what it’s all about. I wouldn’t say I find it surreal because it’s just part of the game. As a player, you know that you’re going to be in the limelight and I don’t mind it.

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Villa Park for me. That’s everything. That’s all I’ve ever known. Birmingham is a city like many others but Aston Villa aren’t in any other city. My club is here"

Can you remember the first time you did feel famous and what that was like?

I think it was just one time when I was walking through Solihull town centre with my mum. I think it was after the FA Cup Semi-Final versus Liverpool. Since then I’ve started to get noticed a lot more. I have people coming up to me asking for photos and stuff regularly. Only Villa fans though, not really Blues fans.

Like any human being, you must like to know people respect what you’re doing. That fame also shows that you must be doing something good if people are noticing you. How does that feel?

Yeah of course, like you say, to be getting noticed, you must be doing something well. I think that I am at the moment and long may that continue.

When you were a kid, did you dream of those moments where you feel you’re on the right path? Things like being on Match of The Day and that kind of stuff?

I didn’t really dream of being famous or anything like that. I just dreamed of being a professional football player and to play for Aston Villa. I’ve been lucky enough to make that come true. It’s been down to myself, down to my hard work and I’m here now as the Aston Villa captain so I’m enjoying every minute of that and taking it all in.

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What about the years before you were a player… as a fan, how would you describe those times? Can you paint that picture?

On a personal level, when I think about my career, it’s an unbelievable story for me really. I had a season ticket since I was four and went with my dad and brother. I then started playing football at Sunday League when I was five or six and within a few games, I got asked to go on a trial at Aston Villa. I had a few clubs around the Midlands area that asked me to go on trial and stuff but there was only one place that I wanted to go and that was Villa. Even growing up while part of the academy I still went to watch Villa every single week and I always knew that I always wanted to play for Villa’s first team. Luckily I have done that now. I was 18 when I made my debut and now I’m the captain and we’re in the Premier League. It’s good, I like it.

Can see you smile as you say those words. Those words coming out of your mouth clearly feel good don’t they?

Yeah definitely because when I was growing up, I never really saw myself as that big captain role. I didn’t aspire to be a captain. I was more of a flair player who did un-captain-like-stuff and I recognise that. Two or three years ago I would be the last one into the training ground and onto the training pitch but I’ve changed a lot over the last two years. I’ve taken on those leadership roles within the team and the manager trusts me. I think because I’m an Aston Villa fan and someone who has been there a long time, he’s seen leadership qualities in me and I think that’s why he gave me the captain’s armband.

When talking about fame and that kind of thing - the kind of overnight nature it can be in football when you burst onto the scene… Do you think you were ready for it?

Yeah it’s one of those things that’s hard not to notice the effect it has on your life. Everywhere you go you get noticed, especially playing for such a big club in a big city. It’s just part of the game though especially when you’re playing in the Premier League week-in, week-out. You’re going to get noticed, it's just part of it and you have to constantly learn along the way and learn from those mistakes too.

Successful people always surround themselves with good people. How important is that tight group around you, especially as that spotlight grows?

Yeah they’re all hugely important for me. The higher you go, the more important that group is. When I was younger I probably didn’t have all the right people around me friends-wise. Now I have a tight set of friends, a brilliant family who have supported me since I was a kid, my dad who travels everywhere to watch me - both home and away and my mum who comes to most games too. All my brothers and sisters are so supportive. It’s massive you know, I can’t emphasise that enough - you need that and people like that. Especially as a footballer with the limelight it brings.

Those last two years. Hard lessons along the way. How quickly would you say you’ve had to grow up?

Very quickly. When I was younger, I was in the papers for the wrong reasons and I’ll admit that I probably did things that I shouldn’t have. I wouldn’t change one thing about that though - all these experiences have made me the man I am today. You have to learn from those mistakes. That is one thing I probably needed to happen to me - I needed to grow up and mature and I feel like I’ve done that now and that’s why I’m sitting here now as a Premier League captain.

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You touched on it already but with your family in mind, do they help keep you grounded?

My dad wouldn’t let me get carried away with stuff. Nor would my mum. I come from a big family and I know what’s most important in life. I know my dad wouldn’t let me get carried away and I think it’s important that you do stay grounded and be conscious of that too.

Is your dad a big character then?

Yeah he is [laughs]. He’s never afraid to say what he thinks. It’s good you know, it’s good for me and it’s another good thing for my career to have people like him there for me.

On the flip side, it must be a strange place to find yourself if you’re achieving such highs to be brought back in check by your family?

Yeah but I think that’s what you need. I’m still young, like I say, I’m so close with my family and I think you need them close in a game like this.

A lot of people may have preconceived ideas about you because of what the papers have said and that kind of tabloid news - how would you describe yourself in your own words?

Confident, full of energy I’d say. Around the training ground and places like that, I’m just someone who loves to play football. Every single day I just want to go out and play football. Ever since I was a kid, that’s all I wanted to do and I will never take that for granted at all. I’ve had two bad injuries in the last three years and when you’re out it really makes you realise how much you miss it. A kid from Solihull who just loves to play football - I’ve been living my dream really. I’m a Villa fan born and bred, playing for my hometown as captain.

Your image is something a lot of time goes into. What do you like about the fashion world and dressing well?

[laughs] I like my clothes. I put a bit of time into what I wear. My parents will say I spend too much on clothes but I think it’s part of this lifestyle. It’s for some people and it’s not for others. I think my group of friends in football, we all like the same kind of style. I think that’s fair enough. Like me, they want to look their best.

Are there other athletes you look at who you think do things right or you like how they are leading the way?

OBJ. I like what he puts on instagram and as an athlete he’s out there in a big way.

Both of those players have their own brands. Would you ever see yourself wanting to do a signature collection?

Yeah of course. I think to do that, you’ve got to be playing at the highest level and be at your very best. You know what the media is like when you do something outside football. It’s different in America and OBJ is one of the greatest athletes. It’s definitely something I’d love to do in the future.

How do you think it would feel to meet someone like OBJ?

I’d love to meet him. He’s an inspiration in the way he does stuff. I think I’d probably feel a bit starstruck when meeting someone like Drake. They’re so huge they’re almost unreal you know?

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Let’s talk about life some more… when you made your Premier League debut you were still living at home. How did it feel to move out when you did? Was it hard?

Yeah it was. I only moved out two years ago. I loved being at home with my two brothers, my two sisters and my mum and dad. I’m a proper family person. It was tough to move out, especially as someone who couldn’t cook. I still need to have my mum come round a few times a week to help me around the house. There just comes a time though when you do need to grow up and mature a lot more and I think all those things help on the pitch too.

Cooking them a meal anytime soon?

Not right now. I will in the future though. When I finally learn to cook something decent.

What’s it like when your family get back around the dinner table? Are you just kids again in that environment?

It’s no different really, we’re all very close and all my family come over to mine once a week and we have food and watch a film. My dad being a Villa fan all his life is so proud of me and it’s nice for us to be together.

Your sister Holly has cerebral palsy. Can you tell us about your sister Holly and the inspiration she gives you?

She gives me so much happiness. She gives my whole family a lot of happiness. She suffers with cerebral palsy and has been in and out of hospital all the time really. She’s had two operations in the last two years and has another one coming up this year. She just takes it all in her stride. She’s full of energy and makes everyone laugh all the time. Having someone like her around all the time is incredible. She’s a great person to have around and we all love her so much. Being in the position that I am, it’s nice that I can do stuff for her and give back to her.

I suppose it makes everything relative. A bad game can go out the window when you see her and your family?

Of course, yeah. Though I’m quite good at that. If I have a bad game or a bad day football-wise, I try not to bring it home. If I’m with my family and stuff then I try and switch off and just try to enjoy my time with them. At the end of the day they haven’t made you lose or whatever so yeah I’ve become quite good at that.

You as a leader, how have you found that change? Looking at a season where you’re battling to stay up against one where you’re pushing for promotion - picking up players and adapting into that role…

It’s been different. Obviously it’s a big difference between the Championship where you’re winning most games to then being in the Premier League and battling and not winning as many. I do now see myself as a leader in the dressing room. I’m still young but I class myself as one of the more experienced players and I think the whole team would too. As a leader, I wouldn’t say I’m one of these captains that goes around screaming and shouting all the time. I’m not really like that. There’s others on our team that do that. I like to lead by the way I play football. I think that’s one of the reasons why the manager did make me captain.

When you’re talking about the way you play, you can’t help but think about the boots you played in for months. You ran them into the ground. Do you think those boots kind of reflected how hard you play?

Haha. Those boots were battered though. They were worn right until the end, probably to the end of their lifespan. They couldn’t have played another game. I’m not actually a madly superstitious person either. Those boots may make you think differently. The only reason I wore them is because I had just come back from injury and we had won ten games in a row. Towards the playoffs and then the semi-final, they took a beating but I just thought I had to wear them - I had worn them for every other game. I wore them for the play off final and we ended up winning.

They’ve got to go into a museum or something…

To be fair, Villa want them off me. I’m not too sure what they want to do with them but I think they’re going to do something with them. It’s only really the left one that is battered.

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𝑰 𝒘𝒂𝒏𝒕 𝒕𝒐 𝒃𝒆 𝒂𝒏 𝑬𝒏𝒈𝒍𝒂𝒏𝒅 𝒓𝒆𝒈𝒖𝒍𝒂𝒓. 𝑰 𝒘𝒂𝒏𝒕 𝒕𝒐 𝒑𝒍𝒂𝒚 𝒊𝒏 𝒕𝒉𝒆 𝑷𝒓𝒆𝒎𝒊𝒆𝒓 𝑳𝒆𝒂𝒈𝒖𝒆 𝒇𝒐𝒓 𝒕𝒉𝒆 𝒓𝒆𝒔𝒕 𝒐𝒇 𝒎𝒚 𝒍𝒊𝒇𝒆 𝒂𝒏𝒅 𝑰 𝒘𝒂𝒏𝒕 𝒕𝒐 𝒑𝒍𝒂𝒚 𝒂𝒕 𝒕𝒉𝒆 𝒉𝒊𝒈𝒉𝒆𝒔𝒕 𝒔𝒕𝒂𝒏𝒅𝒂𝒓𝒅 𝒑𝒐𝒔𝒔𝒊𝒃𝒍𝒆"

When we talk about becoming a leader, all those you’ve played under, are there good traits you think you’ve taken off the best and brought into your game?

Yeah you could say. I’ve been in the Villa first team for 6/7 years now and I’ve played under a lot of good captains in that time. John Terry to name just one. You’ve only got to be with him for a week or so to see why he was so good and how much of a winner he is in everything he does. He demands the best from everyone around him. For me, that was probably the best thing about him. He demanded the best from everyone and he got the best out of us all. Even day to day, whether it was table tennis, head tennis or pool - he just wants to win. No matter what it is. I think that shows why he was so successful in his career. What a player he was too.

That taste of winning and that as a trait, has that become part of who you are?

Yeah of course. When you finish your career, that is going to be one of the main things you look back on. You want to win things. Obviously we lost out on the Carabao Cup and got beat by City in the final but hopefully there will be plenty more opportunities to come. When I look back at my career once I’ve retired, I want to be able to say I’ve won things and picked up winners medals.

While it’s not the easiest for you to go for a walk...What would you say makes it such a unique place for you?

Villa Park for me. That’s everything. That’s all I’ve ever known. Birmingham is a city like many others but Aston Villa aren’t in any other city. My club is here. I’ll never get bored of going to Villa Park.

Villa Park is a special stadium isn’t it. Football fans always comment on it as a special place to go don’t they?

I remember Jamie Carragher saying that a lot on Sky Sports. He always mentions Villa Park and how it was one of his favourite places to go when he was playing. Of all those stadiums in the Premier League, it’s unique. Obviously it was supposed to be a venue for the Euros as well so that says how important and how big a stadium it is. It’s obviously nice to go and play in other stadiums and see other stadiums but Villa means something to me personally. Wembley maybe is another one that stands out.

Given you were such a fan growing up. Do you ever miss going to the football and being able to enjoy it as a supporter?

Yeah I do you know. I’d love to go to a game as a fan and watch Villa. Maybe I’d have to dress up in disguise or something. As a kid, I used to go to school but it was the game at the weekend that I was looking forward to most. My dad tried to take me to as many away games as possible as well. Growing up, that’s what I used to love doing. Getting to the ground early, watching the players warm up and stuff. I’d wait after the game, wait for the players to come out so I could get their autographs. I was a proper little fan boy.

Who’s autograph were you most pleased with as a kid?

I used to love Agbonglahor. I was lucky enough to end up playing with him. I remember growing up, he always used to score against Birmingham. That’s what I wanted to do and lucky enough a couple of seasons back I got to do it twice. 

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Outside of the Pandemic...Do a lot of your mates go to games and watch you now?

Yeah all of them do. The ones that are Villa fans that is. One of my close fans is a Blues fan so he stays away. I’ve got two or three friends who come to the games every single week. It’s nice for them to have a best mate who plays for Villa.

Must be weird to know that what you do on the pitch can affect their mood…

Yeah but they can’t say much because I get them free tickets every week. [laughs]

You said you’d love to experience it as a fan again. Do you ever see your mates’ instagram stories and it brings those memories back?

It’s funny. I used to love the away days. Travelling down with the fans and stuff like that. It was unreal to be on the road with my family. My cousins, my dad and my brother. Aways days are as good as the home days if not better.

Looking forward and playing. You’ve been on the pitch with so much talent. It must give you an insight to your level and how far you can go?

Yeah, I guess so. I have mad faith and confidence in my ability anyway so I wouldn't really need to train and play against people to know whether I can compete with them. Obviously, we all know how good and how hard the Premier League is. Probably the hardest in the world. I’ve held my own in the league and I knew I could. I said at the start of last season that I knew I could and would be successful in the Premier League. I just needed to find my feet and get to know it first. As soon as I got my first goal, I got a fair few and created a lot of chances for others after that.

Does every goal make you more hungry for the next?

It really does. It’s weird because I’ve never really been that type of player who scores regularly. As soon as I started scoring regularly last season, it gave me an appetite for more, for sure. When you score, you just keep wanting that feeling and you find yourself in positions you wouldn’t have in the past because you want to score that bad. Obviously that’s one thing I need to keep doing. I need to keep scoring and keep getting assists. It’s not so much about the adrenaline kick but scoring, going home and seeing it on Match of The Day is special. Knowing that you’ve scored, knowing that you’ve helped the team get a win or a draw, that’s what’s special. Every time you score, you just want it again. Same with a win, you just want one more after the last.

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How high do you set your standards going into a new season?

I want to be an England regular. I want to play in the Premier League for the rest of my life and I want to play at the highest standard possible. I’m not going to sit here and say what I can achieve but deep down I know that if I put my mind to it and fulfill my ability that anything is possible. For me it’s now about keeping working hard and not letting my standards slip, which I’ll be honest and say I have done in the past. Long may my Premier League career continue.

On the England side of things, do you remember watching the big tournaments and having a love for those moments as well as all those feelings as a fan on the club side?

Yeah massively. I did it a few years ago in 2018 in the World Cup. That summer I was like a fan. I had a lot of friends playing for England in that squad at the time but in that moment I was as passionate as every fan you saw. I want to be an England regular. Hopefully I can make that dream a reality. I’ve been waiting for a long time and I feel like I’m ready for that now. It’s a proud moment for myself, my family and even Aston Villa. You don’t get a lot of opportunities at anything in life so you have to grab every moment.

You’ve talked about confidence in your own ability, what do you think you need to add to your game to hit the highs you’ve talked about?

I probably need to be as consistent as possible. In my career, I’ve had moments where I’ve been good for a few months, picked up an injury and then returned at a level that’s not as high. I’ve been up and down. I think I had shown a lot of consistency last season and that’s what I need to take into this season. I have faith in my ability and I know I can go as far as I want really.

Photography by James Hendley, Ross Cooke and Pete Martin
Styling by Lewis Munro


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