All hail Jermain Defoe – deadly hitman and all-round good egg…

Ian Watson

Who’s this then?

Jermain Colin Defoe is a 37-year-old, 5ft 7in striker from Beckton in East London. Despite his age he is currently playing at one of the biggest clubs in Europe, Glasgow Rangers, and was on the bench for their game in the Europa League this week. He moved there on loan from Bournemouth in January 2019, after scoring 26 goals in 54 games, and made the temporary move a permanent one this summer.

In a career which started in 1999 at West Ham United, he’s turned out for seven clubs: the Hammers, Bournemouth, Portsmouth, Spurs, Toronto, Sunderland and Rangers.

Nine of those seasons were at White Hart Lane in two different spells, playing 363 times scoring 143 goals. It has been such a long career so far and shows no sign of ending yet. There have been plenty of ups and downs, purple patches and arid seasons. His best season for goals was 2009/10 at Spurs where he scored 24 times, one of only two seasons he scored over 20 in a season, the other also being in north London in 2004/05 when he bagged 22 in 44 games.

He’s scored goals everywhere he’s played, even managing to get 33 across two seasons for the appalling and eventually-relegated Sunderland side of 2015/16 and 2016/17.

For a while it seemed that after starting out at West Ham under Harry Redknapp, wherever ‘arry went, Jermain would soon enough follow.

But after falling out of favour in Spurs, he spent a season at Toronto FC, knocking in 12 goals in 21 games in the MLS.

He also got 57 caps and scored 20 times for England which ain’t half bad. Indeed, he can count himself unlucky not to have played for England more. Almost all of his goals came in friendlies and qualifiers; his only tournament strike was the only goal against Slovenia in the 2010 World Cup.

Defoe was unlucky in 2006 to be omitted from the World Cup squad in favour of a knacked Wayne Rooney, despite being on stand-by, but he’d only scored nine in 38 for Spurs that season – his worst to date – and Sven thought his form wasn’t up to scratch.

He scored the first hat-trick at the newly reopened Wembley in a 4-0 rout of Bulgaria. But he was left out of the squad for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. Defoe was bereft at the decision. “I likely won’t ever get over the decision … I don’t think I’ll ever be at peace with it.” However, he’d been out of favour in his last season at Spurs, playing only 14 league games and while he’s got seven in five European games, he’d only netted once in the league and that didn’t help his international cause at all. It was bad luck that his dips in form so often coincided with tournament years.

No-one could say JD has had it easy in his life. His half-brother died following an assault in 2009 and lost his father to throat cancer in 2012. While at Sunderland, his befriending of Bradley Lowery, a wee lad who was terminally ill with neuroblastoma was very touching. He spoke movingly about him on several occasions and how meeting him had changed his life and given him a whole new perspective.

He got an OBE in the 2018 Birthday Honours for services to the Jermain Defoe Foundation, which was founded in 2013 to support homeless, vulnerable and abused children in his family’s home country of St Lucia and has since expanded to support children and families in surrounding Carribean Islands and the UK where it helps youngsters with life-threatening illnesses. It aims to raise funds for other children affected by neuroblastoma to receive treatment.

Now a tee-total vegan (not easy when you work in Scotland), he credits his lifestyle with keeping him fit enough to keep playing into his late 30s. Mind you, Kris Boyd was scoring goals aged 36 in the Scottish Premiership, while functioning on a carefully prepared diet of bridies, macaroni pies and battered haggis.


Why the love?

If you watched him last season playing for Rangers his game seems largely unchanged from 20 years ago, which given his age, is remarkable. Indeed he looks perhaps only five years older. The core of his success is based on super quick reactions in the box. Even if age has robbed him of a yard of pace, his feet are as quick as ever in the box and probably will be well into his 40s. His game has always been predicated on finding or engineering space in the box to operate in, even though he could score long range strikes, and speedy breakaways too. And when it came to one-on-ones with the keeper, he was an expert finisher who never seemed to fluff his lines.

To dwell briefly on his feet, they are the fastest I can recall ever seeing and the most distinct thing about his game. He is able to move them into position and strike a ball without much backlift, more swiftly than most. It’s only a matter of split seconds but over the years, those split seconds have been just enough to get him a lot of goals. It is that speed of movement that provided him with the space to score.

On top of this, he’s just very nimble. Perhaps it’s being shorter than most and having a low centre of gravity but at the peak of his career, there was no-one who could wriggle and find space in a tight spot quite as successfully. He has a tight, fast turning circle, almost being able to spin on the spot.

Throughout his career he’s been the sort of striker that you just fancy will get a goal. Even if he just comes on for the last five minutes, you know he’ll likely only need one chance to bury it. The sort of striker that as an opposition fan you dreaded getting the ball in the box because you knew he’d get a shot off on target and that if he didn’t score with the first, he’d score with the second.

Although his height might have counted against him in a physical game, he was never anyone’s pushover and learned from an early age how to fight his corner. As he got older he put on muscle and became quite the beefcake. Even at 37, in the far more physical Scottish game, it looks like you’d need some sort of steam hammer to knock him off the ball.

Defoe has rarely been a player that opposition fans took against, as though instinctively knowing this was a decent cove who didn’t deserve the abuse that so many suffer. It’s odd how this works sometimes. There has always been a directness and honesty to his game that is timelessly popular with fans. Maybe it is also to do with being shorter which earns a player more sympathy as he’s up against bigger and more beastly boys.

It also has to be said that everyone who has met him reports him to be a thoroughly nice chap and that goes a long way in a world that seems ever more harsh and cold. Obviously, this very much came to the fore with Bradley.

Oh and he was also a bloody great penalty box goalscorer and in his pomp, played brilliantly on the shoulder of the last man with a turn of pace to get him to the ball first.

It’s also true that he could bloody lash a ball as hard as anyone. If you look at his goals reel, the ferocity with which he strikes the ball is still as vicious in 2020 as it was in 1999. Like all of the best strikers there is a lovely smooth flow to everything he does. There’s nothing awkward or angular about his play at all. Just a fantastic striker.

What the people love

There were some lovely memories of JD and I sense he’s a footballer who lifts many hearts in a way that few do. We start with a 4_4_haiku

“I did work experience at Spurs once and he was by a mile the nicest English bloke there. Then what he did for Bradley Lowery proved it. Top bloke. And a quality goalscorer on his day too.

When he was at Pompey he was one of the very few players you genuinely expected to score when one-on-one with the keeper. And he usually did. Thats quite a thing for a fan of a non-elite club.

Most underrated English forward in my time watching football. Magnificent no-backlift style of striking a football, absolutely loved him.

You’ll get a lot of these but what he did for Bradley Lowery and continues to do for his family is beyond what anyone would realistically expect a footballer to do. For this and that goal in the Tyne/Wear derby he’ll never have to buy a drink in Sunderland again. Top bloke.

It was nice that he was able to leave Toronto and finish a successful career.

I think of three things when I think of him: Bradley Lowery, that job spec to be his assistant, and phenomenal tweets endorsing random products

In an ever changing fast-paced modern world, where nothing seems to last anymore, it was heartwarming to see the most committed partnership he shared with Mr Redknapp.

A true modern gentleman of the game, what he did off the pitch with Bradley Lowery was incredible and warms any soul, his work on the pitch well he scored goals wherever he went be it the MLS, Scotland or in England, prolific goalscorer and deserves more than just a League Cup.

One of the only times I’ve liked a Sunderland player with him and Bradley Lowery, he just seems like a good guy. It’s what you’d always hope more of the football related news would be like. Speaks to his longevity that I always try to sign him in CM 01/02.

Saw him in Tesco in Durham once. Happy to chat to everyone while filling his basket. Nice guy – but tiny.

We took the kids to a WWE show in Newcastle while he was a Sunderland player. He was announced as the special guest time-keeper. Revelled in the boos from all the Geordies, the little scamp.

I would back Defoe to score one-on-one with the keeper if my life depended on it. Him and Kevin Phillips, absolute stone cold killers in front of goal.

Possibly the finest pirouette of any modern player. That man can turn.

From memory he should’ve had more chances with England

Remember him playing for Bournemouth against Northampton at Sixfields in Div 2. Bagged a brace, could have had three and was pretty much untouchable. So slight but hungry for goals.

What an excellent player he was in his pomp. Never gave defences a moment’s peace, he was so clever and sharp around the box. Scored plenty for his country as well. And what he did for Bradley Lowrey was heartwarming. And still trying to score goals aged 37. Marvellous.


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Three great moments

An incredible variety of goals. Especially love on 3:00 he batters the ball at the goal, keeper saves it and it comes right back to JD who, if anything, batters it even harder back down his throat to score.


A 20-yard Ooofthwacker in the Wear-Tyne derby…


A crafty lob from an angle…

What now?

Defoe will be 38 in October but doesn’t seem to show any signs of flagging. He’s signed a one year deal at Rangers, presumably if he continues to deliver a goal every other game, he’ll be offered another year on top of that. That being said, he is presumably Steven Gerrard’s pick and if Gerrard fails to stop Celtic from winning 10 in-a-row, there are many who think he’ll be offski. If that is the case, his replacement may not be so well-disposed towards a striker going on 39 years of age.

However, even if that was to be the case, it would surprise no-one if Jermain simply went to another club and continued to deploy his speedy trotters to great effect once again. He’d be a great asset to many clubs and as he shows every sign of wanting to play for as long as possible, knowing that you’re a long time retired, playing down the divisions would hold no fears for him.

When he does finally retire, he surely has much to offer in a mentoring role within football or in the community game. He doesn’t seem to be the sort who is happy to live off his riches, and merely play golf and Playstation for the rest of his life. As one of the game’s good guys, he’s got so much to offer and seems set to be someone who makes a difference and in that we should all take inspiration from him.

John Nicholson