Jay Rodriguez: From "Jumpers for Goalposts" to England international!
Burnley striker Jay Rodriguez spent his childhood kicking balls against factory doors, playing ‘street football’ games and spending hours on dusty AstroTurf pitches until darkness intervened.
He would frequent terraced streets that branched off Briercliffe Road – with his favourite spot occupying a spot of land on the crossroads of Queen Victoria Road and Thursby Road.
And when visiting relatives in a separate pocket of town, within a stone’s throw of Turf Moor, the football fanatic would join hundreds of other kids at Towneley Park.
“I always used to go to the astroturf at Towneley during the summer to play ‘cuppies’ or ‘double cuppies’,” he said.
“We used to go to a factory in Queen Victoria Road as well. There was a red door at the side of the building and we would use that as our nets. I learned my trade at that unit!
“We’d also go to Walshaw, wherever we could really, until we got told to move on. I used to play all day. It was great. I’d get on my bike every day and cycle down. They were good times!”
Rodriguez’s dreams were no different to anybody else’s at the time. He idolised Ian Wright, Andy Cole and Dwight Yorke.
Alan Shearer, Robbie Fowler, Les Ferdinand, Teddy Sheringham and Eric Cantona were also prominent in the Premier League goalscoring charts in the mid-90s. And the likes of Andy Cooke, Kurt Nogan and Paul Barnes had been scoring goals for the Clarets in the old Second Division.
It was they, along with dad Kiko, who would be the source of inspiration for his first steps into a more competitive form of football.
The journey started at Brunlea Juniors, but it was a switch to Barrowford Celtic that would eventually lead to his big break.
“I would always watch my dad play football at the weekend and when my brother Joe was old enough we’d play football at half-time at Burnley United and Padiham,” said Rodriguez.
“We always had a ball in hand. We’ve always been competitive, but it was easier for me because I’m six years older. We were always football orientated, we always watched it together, it’s always been in our life.
“I went from Brunlea to Barrowford and always enjoyed it. My parents told me to work hard if it was something I really wanted to do, but they always told me to make sure that I enjoyed it.”
Rodriguez added: “Andy Baker was the manager at Brunlea and my dad helped out there as well. I was playing for the age group above me, but I wasn’t really interested at first because I was only eight.
“Then I came off the bench one day and scored a hat-trick and my interest piqued from that point. I ended up signing for Barrowford and I don’t think Andy was too happy about that at the time.
“We had a great team at Barrowford, it was a really good set-up and I loved my time there. I met some great people together and a few of us went through to the youth team playing for Barrowford.
“There was Connor Smith and Jack Overson, Kieran Atkinson, Reece Murgatroyd. We all went to Burnley together into the School of Excellence.”
The former Heasandford Primary and Barden High School pupil was mentored by Jeff Smith and former Burnley defender Vince Overson.
He arrived at the club as an 11-year-old when Andy Payton was in his pomp during Stan Ternent’s reign.
Rodriguez was able to watch his hero at close quarters as he finished the 1999/2000 campaign with 27 goals and the Golden Boot award.
“I was a ballboy during my time at the School of Excellence and with the youth team,” he said.
“I used to go to Kath’s Off Licence, just down the road from the Turf, stock up on sweets and then watch the game.
“It was great because you were really close to the pitch and you could hear what the players were saying. It gave you a feel for it.
“I had a stint on the away end and then I was down by the James Hargreaves Stand. A lot of my friends still go on, which is good.”
In the end the years he spent playing ‘Jumpers for Goalposts’ and ‘Headers and Volleys’ would pay dividends.
The 31-year-old is closing in on 200 Premier League appearances, he’s played for England at Wembley, netted in a League Cup semi-final, scored in the Europa League and found the net at Old Trafford, Anfield and Stamford Bridge.
“I’m definitely proud,” said Rodriguez, who has scored 19.5% of his 123 career goals in English football with his head.
“The odds of becoming a professional footballer are very low and I still need to pinch myself.
“I still look back now and I’m immensely proud , it’s one of the best jobs in the world, and that’s why I’ll never take it for granted. I’ve loved every minute of it.”