I remember everything. I really do.
Some players forget, or their memories blur. Not me. You can show me basically any picture from my career and I can tell you the date, the score, the weather … everything.
I feel so lucky, and I’ve never taken anything for granted. I know what my family and I sacrificed to get here, so I hold on to the memories.
I’ve lived the dream.
There are so many moments that go into a career. Now that I’m retired, I can finally pause to look back at everything that happened. As was the case so often throughout my career, it all started with a call from Harry Redknapp.
There are a lot of stories out there about Harry Redknapp — Uncle Harry — but perhaps the best way to sum him up is the first pep talk he gave me after I joined West Ham when I was 16.
It was the same thing he would say to me over and over again throughout my career. Three words: “Just score goals.”
That’s it. Nothing more, nothing less.
The great thing about Harry was that he never complicated anything. And in terms of man-management, he was the absolute best — especially with us young players. And West Ham had a lot of top young players.
Actually, one of the key reasons why I chose West Ham in the first place was the FA Youth Cup.
That competition really mattered to the club. I remember watching the 1999 final, the season before I joined, and Upton Park was packed out. The fans were going nuts, loving every minute of it. And it was all for the Youth Cup, do you know what I mean??
I’d had other offers but, as an East London boy, I was just like, Wow, I want to be a part of that.
Back then, West Ham had this reputation for finding and developing the best young players in the country. Michael Carrick, Joe Cole, Rio Ferdinand, Frank Lampard. So much talent, man.
Harry had scouts everywhere.
It wasn’t just about young players though. The day I signed, do you know who the first person I saw when I walked into the training ground at Chadwell Heath with my mum and dad was? Ian Wright — THE Ian Wright, just standing there waiting to greet me.
Everyone knows Wrighty had been my idol since before I even really understood what football was. For him to be the first face I saw, pffft … I just knew I was in the right place.
I’d signed for 1.65 million pounds after an FA tribunal — that was a lot for a 16-year-old back then. I had paparazzi turning up at my youth games — but I was never made to feel the pressure. It was like I was immediately part of the group.
I remember going through the canteen and hearing Rio Ferdinand screaming my name haha!
And then there was Harry. He was just like, “This is Jermain. We’ve bought him from Charlton. He’s only 16 but he’s gonna score us goals, aren’t you, son?”
THE TRANSFER REQUEST
We played some good football at West Ham and we had some real quality in the dressing room. I’m talking about people like Trevor Sinclair, Les Ferdinand, David James, Frédi Kanouté, Michael and Joey … then, add to that, we had Paolo Di Canio, who was one of the best I’ve ever played with, for real. A genius, man.
That made getting relegated in 2003 so frustrating, because we never should’ve been in that position. The year before we finished seventh!
I was a 20-year-old kid at the time and didn’t really understand the implications of it.- Jermain Defoe
But a lot of things happened, things outside of football … our manager, Glenn Roeder, got ill and Trevor Brooking had to take over in April.
I learned a lot that year. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, I was naive to hand in a transfer request.
I’d come through at West Ham. I loved it there, and my family are from East London — a lot of them are big Hammers. I didn’t want to upset anyone. But the people who represented me at the time put pressure on me, like, “If you want to still play in the Premier League and have a chance at playing for England, you have to get out of here.”
I was a 20-year-old kid at the time and didn’t really understand the implications of it. Suddenly I was all over the papers, people saying this and that about me. The backlash was crazy. It was a lonely place to be in. My agent had put me in that position, but it was me alone on the back pages of the papers, and getting abuse from the fans.
Luckily, I was already used to the limelight and the pressure. I’d signed for West Ham as a kid, and at my first game in the youth team, there were paparazzi taking pictures of me. I just had to keep my head down and remember Harry’s advice: Just score goals. Forget about everything else.
The way it’s done, you actually get a text from one of the admin staff at the FA telling you that you’ve been called up.
“Congratulations. You have been selected for the England squad for the game against Sweden.”
I was buzzing, but I also felt ready. I’d been waiting for this moment for a long time.
Growing up … man, England meant everything to me. That was the ultimate.
England was always my goal and one of the main reasons why I left West Ham for Spurs — for that kid watching Gazza tear it up at Italia ’90 dreaming, Wow, man, if I could do that one day with the whole world watching….
I remember sitting at the dinner table in my first camp with a couple of the other younger lads, Jermaine Jenas and Shaun Wright-Phillips ... and we’re all just looking around like fanboys at David Beckham, Paul Scholes, Steven Gerrard. Just wow. And we’re all thinking, O.K. we’re here now, but we’ve got to stay here.
My first start came against Poland later that year. Thirty-seven minutes into the game Becks found me with a cross and I scored my first goal for England.
Before the game he had even come over to me, maybe because he thought I was nervous. You know what he told me?
“Just do what you do. Don’t change anything.”
Right, before we get into the 2006 World Cup, I gotta say here that I never had any problem with any manager.
And I never had any problem with Theo.
I think from Sven’s perspective, he had his team and that was that … but I think if you ask any England fan, even to this day, they will all say, “Jermain Defoe should’ve gone to the 2006 World Cup.”
I remember I started that season at Spurs so well. Maybe I tailed off at the end, maybe I didn’t score as many as I should’ve, but even when I was out of form no one could tell me I wasn’t a proven goal-scorer. Sven couldn’t honestly tell me that I didn’t have the ability to come on and nick a goal … nah, man, it doesn’t work like that.
When I got the phone call telling me I was only on standby for the World Cup squad, I was like, Hmmm, O.K. Who’s going then? Maybe he’s taken Benty instead.
Darren Bent had scored a lot of goals that season. I texted him like, “Are you going?”
“No, I’m not going.”
Then I messaged Shaun Wright-Phillips.
“No, I’m not going.”
Huh, O.K. What’s going on here?
When the squad list came out, and we saw that Sven had gone with a 17-year-old who had never played in the Premier League before … I’m not going to say nothing against Theo, because it was fantastic for him and his family and I was genuinely really happy for him. I was. But for me, well, it was tough.
Sven wanted me to travel with the team. I didn’t get the thinking behind that. It was like I was part of the team … but I wasn’t, you know? I felt sharp in training, probably sharper than I had all season. I was scoring goals, impressing in training, but I wasn’t gonna play the games. I think a lot of the boys were also just confused by the whole thing.
I never hold a grudge. If I saw Sven now I’d shake his hand, but maybe I’d ask what he was thinking.
One day in 2008, I picked up the phone and heard Uncle Harry down the line.
It’s funny, man. If he took a job tomorrow, I reckon he would call me up to get me out of retirement hahaha!
I wasn’t totally happy at Spurs under Ramos and my contract was coming up. So when I got the call from Harry and Portsmouth, everything made sense.
He’d built a top team down there. David James, Sol Campbell, Sylvain Distin, Lassana Diarra, King Kanu! Top, top players.
Crouchy joined later and, of course, Niko Kranjčar was there too. Don’t worry, I’ve seen the memes! This was where it all started. Harry’s boy band!
The only problem was, after I left in January, I missed out on Spurs winning the League Cup AND I was cup-tied for Portsmouth, so didn’t get to play in the FA Cup final either.
Still, just to be with the Portsmouth team on that day was special, and I was so happy for Harry because he deserved it.
And I might not have played, but you better believe I still lifted the trophy haha! I wasn’t too proud. I was like, “Yo, gimme that thing!”
When I came back to Tottenham, it was like I’d never been away, y’know? Like I’d just been on holiday.
I kinda knew when Harry left for Tottenham that I’d get the call at some point. I remember it was actually the club dentist at Spurs, Peter Rabin, who phoned me up to play me this clip of the Spurs fans singing my name at the Lane, long after I’d left. It was mad.
He was like, “You’ve got to come back!”
I was like, “Pete, what are you, a dentist or an agent??”
Obviously, when I came home, Niko and Crouchy joined too haha! And, I can’t not tell you about the big man, can I?
He’s a dream to play with as a striker. He gives you that freedom to mix it up, and I knew that he’d always find me with those flick-ons. When I played with him for Spurs, Portsmouth or England, I knew I’d get goals.
BUT on a night out, when you're not really supposed to be out and you're trying to hide?? He’s the worst!
Picture the scene: You’ve had a few beers and you’re trying to get home. You duck into a taxi and you’re trying your best to keep it low-key. Then, all of a sudden, there’s this big giraffe of a man sticking out the sunroof, giving it the robot as you go down Oxford Street. Hahaha!
I never dreamed I’d score five goals in a Premier League game. That’s school football stuff.
But I just got a feeling in the first five minutes against Wigan.
I can’t even remember what it was exactly, but I did something in the game, and I was just like, Ooh, yeah, I'm on it today. I got this....
I remember it was only 1–0 at half time, but I got my first goal around the 50th minute and then they just kept coming. Second, third, fourth….
As soon as I scored the fifth, in my head I knew only Alan Shearer and Andy Cole had ever done it in Premier League history.
After the game, Harry called me the best finisher in the country. That was pure Harry. When he really praised you, you felt like you could perform miracles.
THE WORLD CUP
I’ve scored more than 300 goals in my career but if I had to pick a favourite … there’s no better feeling than scoring at the World Cup. That’s the pinnacle. It’s the one I always wanted.
After everything that had happened four years before, I actually knew I was going to the 2010 tournament as early as March. I’d picked up a little niggle in my hamstring and I got a call from Gary Lewin, the England physio, who basically told me, “Take it easy from now on. Don’t do anything stupid. We need you. You’re in Capello’s plans.”
I always got on with Capello. I know you hear a lot of negative stuff about him, but he had a real presence and he was always good to me.
I used to do certain movements in training, and he would just be like, “Good. Keep doing that. Good." And that was it.
It ended up being a disappointing World Cup after the Germany game (imagine if we’d had VAR back then!!), but for me it will always be special. After not playing much in the first two games, I got thrown in from the start against Slovenia, a game we needed to win.
I remember thinking, Alright, this is it. I gotta take this chance now.
Twenty-three minutes in, the ball went out wide to James Milner and I was thinking, Right, I need to get across the near post.
Those runs are all about delayed movement and timing — all the stuff I’d practised with Wrighty and Di Canio when I was younger.
If you watch the goal back, I got the defender on the back foot and I just dived across the front post as soon as Milner’s ball came in. In those moments your eyes just sort of light up like a child’s. You just know this is it.
Scoring at the World Cup might’ve been my favourite goal but this was surely my best.
Do you know in Aladdin when the genie comes up? That’s how I felt here. Like I’d just been granted my first wish. Like I could do anything.
The Tyne–Wear Derby is always a huge game. I jumped at the chance to join Sunderland in January 2015. It’s a proper club up there, with proper fans. But they’d been on a bad run and by the time the Derby came around, we really needed a win.
I remember big Steven Fletcher heading it down to me right before halftime. Normally I’d try to control it, but I’d been going up and down all half and my legs were so tired that I thought, I’m just gonna hit this….
And then as soon as I connected, Oh my God….
Left foot as well. Proper.
I still remember the roar of the stadium. The roof came off the place, man. Imagine nearly 50,000 Mackems going nuts.
The lads were all on top of me celebrating and when I got up … I just started to cry.
I can’t not talk about Bradley, can I?
I remember during my second season at Sunderland, Louise Wanless, the press girl, said to me one day, “There’s a young kid who wants to meet you.”
She explained that Bradley Lowery was a mascot, that he had neuroblastoma and that I was his favourite player. I was like, “O.K., of course. No worries.” But I had no idea what he would be like. I just assumed from her description that he’d be super shy and quiet.
But as soon as he came into the changing room, he ran straight over to me and jumped on my lap and gave me a cuddle with a big smile on his face. Haha!
After that first meeting, I asked Louise to get me in contact with the family so I could go and see him at the hospital.
At first I was going with other players, but then I just kept going back on my own. I wanted to spend as much time with him as possible. We just had this natural connection, this bond. I still don’t know how to explain it. I got so used to him being around at Sunderland that I really struggled after he was gone.
He taught me to appreciate life and the people around me so much more.
He changed me, my whole perspective.
He was such a character, so funny.
Every time we walked out for games, he would wait for the cameras and do this pose, like a salute.
I remember asking his mum, Gemma, “Did you teach him that?”
And she was like, “No.”
“So why does he do it?”
“I don’t know.”
That was Bradley, man.
I got a call from my mum while I was on the beach in Dubai.
She goes, “Are you sitting down?”
My instant reaction was to stand up, ’cause I’m thinking, This is bad news. My heart starts going, I’m panicking.
“What is it, Mum?”
“I’ve got a letter … you’ve got an OBE.”
I couldn’t really believe it. OBE?? I’m just a boy from East London!
It’s different from winning any trophy, scoring goals or playing for England. It’s more than football. It’s about who you are as a person, your upbringing, your family, what you represent and what you’ve done for the community.
Having dealt with a lot of negative press in the papers earlier in my career, that meant a lot to me … and even more to my mum to see her son get that honour from Prince Charles.
Prince Charles. Buckingham Palace. Pffft … That was surreal, man.
I remember he asked, “How’s football?”
I was like, “It’s good … I took the day off today though to come here.”
The first time I walked into Ibrox — this grand old stadium — I just got taken in. All the pictures on the wall, the trophies, the history. You just feel it and you want to be a part of it.
When you walk down the tunnel there’s a list of all the title winners at the club and you just get desperate to add your name.
You can’t describe it, you just have to experience it. You can’t even hear yourself shout on the pitch.- Jermain Defoe
Before I signed, I spoke to Steven Gerrard. Honestly, I wasn’t even looking to move at the time but when Stevie gets in contact, you take that meeting, do you know what I mean?
The thing that stuck with me was when he told me, “This club is the nearest thing to Liverpool I’ve seen. It’s that big. It’s a giant. And we’re gonna put it back on top.”
After that, I was watching telly with my agent and Rangers were playing a European game. Ibrox was absolutely rocking, and that was it for me. I was like, I need to take this opportunity.
I think my mum was a little sceptical about the move at first, but that all changed after the first Old Firm Derby.
You see, the atmosphere goes to another level. The noise, man. You can’t describe it, you just have to experience it. You can’t even hear yourself shout on the pitch.
We won my first Old Firm Derby 2–0. When Scott Arfield got the second, the stadium just started doing “The Bouncy.” It was like the entire stadium came alive.
After that game my mum told me, “Jermain, I get it now.”
I knew we were gonna win the 2020–21 title from the first week of preseason. We’d just come off that awful COVID season and we were just desperate to see each other, to play, to win. We knew we had to make sure this was the year.
The fans wanted that 55th title and to end Celtic’s dominance so bad, but so did the boys. Going into the gym at the start of preseason, it was so packed, I thought I needed a membership to get near the equipment! The whole club went to another level.
I hope I showed them someone who represented his family and community well.- Jermain Defoe
Thank God we did. Leaving that club without adding your name to the winners’ list in the tunnel is unthinkable. I still spend a lot of time in Glasgow. Can you imagine trying to go to a supermarket or a petrol station ever again?? Nah … forget about it haha!
But as well as winning that title and falling in love with the club and the city, something that really stuck with me from Rangers was when a lot of the younger lads — Joe Aribo, Calvin Bassey, Glen Kamara — started calling me “Uncle.”
It’s such a sign of love and respect, and made me want to run through a brick wall for them, but it also made me feel like my career had come full circle.
You start out as a young kid, dreaming and making mistakes and looking up to the senior players around you, and then, all of a sudden, you’re the one people are looking up to.
The experienced head.
I hope I gave the lads at Rangers what Harry, Wrighty, Becks and Paolo gave me.
Someone to learn from and set standards, someone to help them to focus on their game and how to deal with mistakes.
Off the pitch, my mum always said, “You’re more than football.”
I hope I showed them someone who represented his family and community well.
Someone who gave something back.
And someone who enjoyed every single moment of it all.