The Red Card that Changed My Life

Sam Robles/The Players’ Tribune

My Villa story starts with a red card.


Back in the 2018–19 season, when I was 17, Villa were doing well in the FA Youth Cup. I was doing well.

We beat Swansea 4–2 at Villa Park, I scored two. Next round, we beat Reading 4–1. Two goals again.

For the first time, I felt like people were starting to notice me, starting to talk.

“This Jacob Ramsey kid has got potential.” 

“He’s gonna be a really good player.”

Next up, round 5: Bournemouth (a).

Let me tell you, as a scholar, the FA Youth Cup is a big deal. It’s where everyone’s attention is on the next generation. As a player, those are the games you look out for on the calendar. You make sure your friends and family come. You just know, That’s where I gotta turn up

Jacob Ramsey | The Red Card that Changed My Life | The Players' Tribune

I’m pumped. I know I gotta keep it up. 

Three minutes into the Bournemouth game, I go in for a 50-50. Me and this Bournemouth player both sprint for a loose ball, right in front of the dugout. Crunch. Our studs come together, the ball flies up in the air, the ref blows his whistle.

Their dugout is screaming, “It’s a red! It’s a red!!” I’m like, Surely not. I weren’t late. We both went in at the same time. I’m not a dirty player. I’m not even a physical player. I’m still just a skinny 17-year-old.

In fact, as a kid, I was so small and skinny that my dad used to take me down to his gym in Small Heath during preseason to toughen up.

You might know that my dad, Mark, was a pro boxer. He had a 13-year career and even fought Ricky Hatton twice! 

I’d do a bit of skipping, working the bags, even a little sparring — gum shield in, head guard on haha — just to get that upper-body strength, so I didn’t get pushed off the ball as much.

Growing up, I was a late developer. I didn’t get a proper growth spurt until around the time I turned pro and I was always the smallest in my age group. But that made me focus harder on the technical stuff. I knew I had to be 10 times better than these kids already built like grown men.

Anyway, this tackle three minutes into the game at Bournemouth is just a big coming together, you know?

 I’m thinking, Maybe yellow….

I’m devastated. This was it. My big moment and I’ve let everyone down.

Jacob Ramsey

The ref comes over and takes a long look at me. Like he’s thinking about what to do. Feels like 20 seconds go by … then he pulls out the red. 

I do a double take. What? Red?


The dugout and their fans are shouting at me as I walk off. I figure they’ve seen me in previous rounds and are thinking if we stop him, we’ve got a chance.

I’m devastated. This was it. My big moment and I’ve let everyone down.

Four goals in the previous two rounds count for nothing. Wasted.

When I get back to the changing room, I’m crying. I’m angry. I’m throwing boots, water bottles, whatever.

I write a text to my mum, “I’ve been sent off after three minutes.”

My mum’s watching this one on a stream somewhere. What you should know about Mum is that she’s never liked coming to my games.

It’s not ’cause she doesn’t care. She says she finds it too much pressure — which is mad, as she used to sit ringside during my dad’s boxing career!!!

Jacob Ramsey | The Red Card that Changed My Life | The Players' Tribune
Sam Robles/The Players’ Tribune

But I think she knows that if I’m having a bad game and some fan near her decides to get vocal about her son, she’s gonna lose it. You might think my dad, being a boxer, would be more of a danger for that, but nah, he’s actually the calm one. My mum though … she’s not shy of putting someone back in their place. She’s fiery. So a lot of the time she stays away haha!

Back in the Bournemouth changing room, I see my phone is going off. Mum’s messaging me back. “What happened? Are you O.K.? What did the ref say? What’s the score?”

I’m ignoring my phone. Trying to calm myself. Hoping that the boys can get something out of the game still, but we lose 2–0.

The gaffer tells me, “We’ll speak about it another day.”

It’s gonna be a long coach trip back to Birmingham. My mind is racing. Did that really just happen? 

What is this gonna do to my progress?

So it actually turned out to be the best red card I ever got. Ha!

Jacob Ramsey

I’m looking at the fixture list like, Three games out. I’m gonna miss that, I’m gonna miss that, I’m gonna miss that.

When the rest of the lads are doing match prep, I’m gonna have to do doggy runs on my own, keeping up that level of match fitness.

Then, out of nowhere, I get called up to train with the senior team.

Jacob Ramsey | The Red Card that Changed My Life | The Players' Tribune
Sam Robles/The Players’ Tribune

Turns out they had a load of injuries and needed “mannequins” — y’know, players to make up the numbers — from the under-23s or under-18s. Seeing as I couldn’t be a part of match prep with the youth team anyway, I was an obvious choice.

So it actually turned out to be the best red card I ever got. Ha!

The injuries in the first team were worse than expected and I must’ve been doing something right in training ’cause I started traveling to games with the squad. I even started making the bench.

I actually ended up making my debut at Villa Park in front of 39,000 people against West Brom.

I remember getting to the stadium and seeing all these people waiting for the players. Loads of little kids lining up shouting, “Mings!! Mings!! Can I get a photo??”

No one wanted a photo with me, obviously haha!

Before the game, I got into the changing room ahead of everyone else, not really knowing what to do with myself, just looking at the shirts hanging up.

MINGS. WHELAN. McGINN. ABRAHAM … and on the last peg, right by the door: RAMSEY.

I know I’m on the bench, and I don’t really expect to come on. It’s a huge derby and I’m still a 17-year-old who’s been missing college to train with the firsts for the last two weeks. But midway through the second half, I hear the gaffer, Dean Smith, shout, “JJ, come down! Are you ready?”

I’m thinking, I haven't even got my shin pads on, gaffer

He’s like, “You’re coming on in midfield. Just do what you’ve been doing in the Youth Cup. You’ll be fine.”

I think there’s a photo of me from that game in this oversized kit, where you can see I haven’t had time to tape up my shin pads and they are sitting way down by my ankles! 

We lost 2–0, but that game will always be special to me … playing at Villa Park in those circumstances, two weeks after being sent off in the FA Youth Cup?!?

For a local boy who’d been at Villa since the age of six and supported the club all his life, that’s mad.

Villa Park is such a special stadium, as well. When I’m standing out on the pitch, I look up at the Holte End and remember how I used to walk up those stairs to sit with my family every other weekend.

It’s weird but it was actually during the times with no fans that I started to appreciate just how big the stadium is, how imposing the Holte End is. Looking up at all those empty seats you realise just how many people it takes to fill it. It gives me that buzz.

I’ve scored just once at Villa Park so far, and I have to tell you about it ’cause, a bit like my debut, it started with things not really going to plan.

January 15, 2022. Halftime: Aston Villa 0–1 Manchester United.

I got back into the changing room at half time and I knew the gaffer was gonna be coming for me.

I knew we were in for a bollocking. I was in for a bollocking. From Steven Gerrard.

When he first took over a couple of months before, in November, I was absolutely buzzing.

Jacob Ramsey | The Red Card that Changed My Life | The Players' Tribune
Sam Robles/The Players’ Tribune

It was like — Wow — this is Steven Gerrard. The player I’d grown up watching clips of. 

The player I pretended to be when smashing it top bins against my brothers A.J. and Cole in the back garden.

The player I want to be compared to.

I remember seeing him for the first time in the Villa canteen the first day back after the international break and not knowing whether I should go over and introduce myself. 

Do I go over and say hello? Should I shake his hand?? Is he gonna know who I am???

In the end, I went over and we spoke for like five minutes.

He told me he’d been following my progress at Villa, even on loan at Doncaster and in the England under-21s, too.

Then he said, “Look, you’ve done really well so far. But I’m here now. I’m gonna take you to the next level.”

When Steven Gerrard tells you that, you just know you’re gonna learn big things.

If you wanna know what Gerrard the gaffer is actually like, well, he doesn’t actually speak much, but he doesn’t need to. He’s just got this aura.

When he walks into the canteen, if a bunch of us young lads are sitting, joking around, you see the gaffer come in and you just stop. I don’t even know why, it’s just the way that he carries himself.

And, until that game against United, I’d never had a bollocking off him. None of us had really.

But in the changing room at halftime against United, he’s on us. Shouting, screaming, tearing into us. Tearing into me for my performance.

No one else talks. Everyone’s just sitting there in silence.

It’s one of those moments where you just let him say what he has to say, and you just do whatever he tells you to do.

When Steven Gerrard shouts at you, you listen. 

We’ve got 45 minutes to step up here.

But in the second half, we go 2–0 down.…

Then the gaffer brings Philippe Coutinho on and everything changes. With 13 minutes to go Coutinho plays a one-two on the edge of the box. I’ve come across and he manages to find me. I’m in. 

Touch. Right foot. Left foot. Goal.

In front of the Holte End.

My first goal at Villa Park. I’ve dreamt about this moment and now I don’t even know what to do, how to celebrate. I want to run and jump into the fans where I used to sit, but as soon as the ball’s gone in, someone’s grabbed it and everyone’s running back to the centre. No time to celebrate, it’s game on. 

Jacob Ramsey | The Red Card that Changed My Life | The Players' Tribune
Clive Mason/Getty

Four minutes later, I’m playing one across the box for Coutinho and he can’t miss. It’s 2–2.

One goal. One assist.

Afterwards, the gaffer didn’t say too much to me personally, but I caught his Sky interview where he called my second half “outstanding.”

I reckon that made up for that first 45 — hahaha!

To be learning under Gerrard and playing alongside Coutinho … let’s put it this way: If you’d come into the changing room after I got sent off in the FA Youth Cup down at Bournemouth and told me this would be my future?? Pffft … nah, there’s no way I would’ve believed you! It’s like one of those record-scratch How did I get here?? moments.

Honestly, I’m so lucky to wake up every morning and go train and play for Aston Villa.

It was during the first home game of this season against Newcastle when I first heard the song:

He’s one of our oooowwnnn….

He’s one of our oooooowwwwwnnnn…. 

Jacob Ramsey, he’s one of our own!!

My family was right there in the Holte End too. One of my brothers recorded it on his phone for me, and I’m not gonna lie, I’ve watched it back a few times.

It’s a hell of a nice feeling.

I can’t wait to see where my career goes next with this club.

Just FYI — my mum doesn’t need to watch that video. She actually went to that game.