With the 2021 Allsvenskan (Swedish football season) at the start of a new campaign, it seemed like the perfect time to speak with Blair Turgott.
I chatted with Blair about his youth career at West Ham, playing in Sweden and his upcoming international debut.
Q: When did you discover your talent for football and who was influential in encouraging you?
My brother used to play football, so when I was 5 or 6 I used to watch him play. My dad used to encourage me and would take me to the park every other week. My parents signed me up for an after school club when I was 5 or 6, but I was petrified of the ball! For a few weeks, I didn’t touch the ball. My parents weren’t sure if I was really enjoying it but I stuck with it. Then in one session, someone passed me the ball and I started dribbling, I just loved it from then.
Q: So how did the move to West Ham come about at such an early age?
My dad managed a Sunday League team, when I was about 6 or 7. I played for them and around that time all the London clubs wanted me to sign for them. It was between Arsenal and West Ham, I choose West Ham because my brother was also there at that time. He was playing with the under 14s. I joined at 7 and stayed until I was 21.
Q: While with West Ham, you were sent out on loan a few times, which team did you enjoy the most, and why?
I would say Bradford as that was my first taste of men’s football. I went there when I was 17, I just came back from playing in the U17 European Championships with England. My dad told me that they were a massive club with good supporters. I didn’t really know what the lower leagues were going to be like. I went there and it was amazing. My first game was Bristol Rovers away and the ground was full. The atmosphere was great.
In the following game I came on in a cup tie against Arsenal, in a packed stadium and it was on TV. You realise the passion that people have from these cities, being in the dressing room and training with senior players can only make you better. We beat Arsenal and Aston Villa to get into the League Cup final. I didn’t come on in the final but my family were there at Wembley and it was a massive experience. I definitely have a soft spot for Bradford, for sure.
Q: After a prolific season with hometown club Bromley in 2016, you joined the V9 academy (co-founded by Jamie Vardy). How did you find this experience?
It was really good actually. When I was at Bromley, I got called up to the England C team. From that, I met Ian Henderson, who worked for a non-league newspaper, but also worked alongside the V9 academy. He approached me and said that he wanted me on board.
At that time, I’d played for England all the way through the different age groups, the only team I didn’t play for was the under 21s. The aim was to try and get non-league players a pro club. I had a few other options but I decided to go to the V9 academy and enjoy the experience. I can’t speak highly enough of it, it’s a great platform for talent.
Q: In 2019, you signed with Östersunds in Sweden. How did you adapt to the new culture?
It was different. I’d only been abroad while playing internationally for England. To come over here to Sweden with a new lifestyle, new way of living, different weather and pitches, it took me a while to adapt. I joined half way through their season, so that season was always just going to be about adapting. But I played more games than I probably should have but I had a few little injuries. It was good to get the first six months under my belt and the next season was about exploding onto the scene. It’s been really good so far.
Q: Were there any players that helped you settle in?
When I signed we had an English manager (Ian Burchnall), goalkeeping coach and players too like Charlie Colkett and Ravel Morrison. Before I signed I spoke with Ravel as I knew him from West Ham and we have a good relationship. The feedback from him was really good.
Q: Have you had a need to learn the language?
I’ve been lazy with it. Obviously, their native language is Swedish but everyone speaks English really well. Plus we had a lot of English coaching staff so it wasn’t as necessary to learn it. But, I have picked up a few phrases.
Q: How have you found life in ‘lockdown’ in Sweden? Have you learnt any new skills?
I was probably in the best place for lockdown. There weren’t really any sort of restrictions like how there was back home in England. They kind of left it so that the citizens could make their own decisions. Obviously with being a footballer you have to be responsible. I had more time with the family so I could relax with them. I also have an academy back in England (Shooting Talent Sports), which I started up when I was with Maidstone. I’ve used the time to have some Zoom calls with the players and their parents. I’ve done some giveaways and things like that so it’s been really refreshing.
Q: What’s your favourite Swedish dish?
Obviously, they love meatballs. That would probably be the one. I had to make sure I brought over my seasonings and spices with me from England, so I have a taste of back home.
Q: The 2021 Allsvenskan (Swedish top division) is still in the early weeks of the new season. What is Östersunds’ aim for this campaign? Do you have any personal targets?
Last season we finished just above the relegation zone. We had a bad start, a good middle and then our end to the season wasn’t the best. It’s all about consistency and we want to finish in the top ten. Personally, I want to score more goals, give more assists and play more games.
Q: Congratulations, on the call up to the Jamaica squad for the friendlies against Japan and Serbia. How excited are you to make your international debut?
I’m excited, it’s been a long time coming. At the end of last year they got in touch with me to sort out my Jamaican citizenship and passport. It’s a massive step for me and my family. I’m really looking forward to representing the Reggae Boyz.
Q: Several English born players including Michail Antonio, Nathan Redmond and others are all in the process of obtaining Jamaican passports and intend to represent the Reggae Boyz. How did you react to this news?
The more high profile players that join, the better it is for the country. We have the World Cup and Gold Cup coming up so we want these players at our disposal.
Q: Do you think Jamaica can realistically qualify for the 2022 World Cup? How important is a successful Gold Cup in preparation for World Cup qualifiers?
The Gold Cup is massive. If we do well in that then we can climb up the FIFA rankings and show that we’re a force to be reckoned with. There are so many good players, but it’s about working together as a team. I think it’s a great opportunity to show what I can do and I want to carry on my form from club level.
Q. Aside from football, what other hobbies or interests do you have?
I grew up in a Manchester United household. It felt like the end of the world when they lost when I was a child. But now I have a young family so I spend time with my daughter and do things that she likes to do. Also, I have a football academy back in England that some of my friends help me with. I started a clothing line too, so it’s good to stay busy and have other interests.
Q. Finally, do you have any Netflix recommendations?
I enjoy watching Netflix once my daughter has gone to bed. I like watching it with the missus. My favourite genre is probably crime or documentaries. I’ve just started watching Last Chance U. I watched the series on basketball and now there’s one on American football. It’s mad to see their dedication and see what other people go through in sports.
From my conversation with Blair, he is an engaging, confident and focussed individual who will be a key player for Jamaica and Östersunds for many years to come.