From kicking balls against shop shutters as a kid in south London to bending in match-winning free-kicks in the Premier League, the challenge has always been on for Junior Stanislas to make it.
After making his first-team comeback last weekend the winger told MATCHDAY how he’s nurtured his talents from West Ham via Burnley to Bournemouth – and, after a delay, even to Disney World.
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What was your life like when you were growing up?
I was born in Lewisham and the first place I lived in was New Cross with my family, two brothers. We moved around and I ended up in Kidbrooke, they’re still based there now. My mum had us three kids to look after and we were a bit of a handful, but she did well.
It was an estate, not the best part of London, but for me I wouldn’t change it for anything. You had a lot of people in those estates who had a similar upbringing and we all got on together. We used to get together and play football, not everything was good but that’s all growing up and a part of learning.
Was there any danger you could have gone down the wrong track at any time?
Yeah, a lot of my friends to this day are in prison, a few have died. On any given day I was around those people so I could easily have been led astray or got caught up in a bad situation and led down a different path. Thankfully I stayed with my football, worked hard and it turned out okay for me.
Was football the one thing running through it all?
That was always the constant for me, whatever was going on. We had an AstroTurf built on the estate, so it could be there with the boys or proper training for Sunday league or later at West Ham, football was always my main priority. Where I could have gone the other way, I also had friends around me who knew I was half good at football and encouraged me to do the right things.
We played football anywhere and everywhere. Sometimes it was in front of my house and we kept the neighbours up until whatever time and then were back again first thing in the morning.
Of your group of friends, were you the most talented?
I was always the best, I wasn’t treated any differently though, I got tackled just the same as anyone else. There were a few naughty tackles left in but I was always the most gifted.
It was day-to-day having fun, it wasn’t about me having a talent that I might go on with, it was more like I was definitely going to do it, I’ve never thought anything different. It was a journey and I had to get there somehow, I always knew I would play professional football.
It didn’t really become serious until I got around the first-team level at West Ham, up to then I was hanging around with the same group of friends. It then became different when I was with the squad, travelling to away games and everything was more structured.
My lifestyle stayed the same up until that point, even until I was about 19 I would come home from training with West Ham and go and play on the AstroTurf, living in the same place until I made my debut for the first team.
How big a part of your life has West Ham and your breakthrough there been?
They gave me my upbringing, gave me the opportunity to do something that I enjoyed and often kept me out of trouble. They were fond memories, going back there this season with the lads and still seeing some of the same faces, that was good.
I remember my first training session, there were kids there who’d been there since they were seven, it probably took me a couple of years to settle in but once I did it was with that same group of players until I was 16 or 17-years-old.
We definitely had some good times, we started going on pre-season tours and that helped the bonding with the lads. The first ever time we went away, we went to Italy and it was the first time I’d ever been on a plane – I didn’t know how to work the seat belt!
Can you remember when you first found out you were going to be involved in a first-team game?
I can, it was a Monday night against West Brom. I’d been in the squad for a couple of weeks but didn’t come on. I was told to go and warm up and then they called me in, Gianfranco Zola was manager and my heart started pounding, it was excitement. Then, as soon as I came on, I calmed down and enjoyed it.
I got 20 minutes and then at the weekend we had Sunderland and in the dressing room my name was on the board to start. It didn’t really register, it was almost like a joke – all these players and I was playing with them. We won 2-0 and I scored the first goal, that was a good day.
You moved to Burnley at 21 and linked up with Eddie Howe for the first time, is he up there with the best managers you’ve worked with?
I’d say he’s the best. I mentioned Zola before and I’ll always be grateful to him for giving me the opportunity to play, but with the gaffer here I’ve been with him for over six years now. He’s shown faith, brought me to two different clubs and in the team or out the team he’s always been the same with me.
He always says he likes me as a player and I think I work well with him.
From discussing family life to things on the pitch he’s always someone I can go and see, get advice from and have a chat with. He’s always someone that’s been good with me.
How is he different from other managers?
He’s relentless in terms of what he wants from you. We play in a certain way and that doesn’t come overnight. It might be that the team’s finished training and he wants you to work on some-thing, you’ll continue to do it and everyday you’ll work on things.
That’s not just his starting 11, if you haven’t been playing he spends as much time, if not more time, trying to get you up to a level and making you feel important around the squad.
What has been your stand-out memory in a Bournemouth shirt over the last few years?
The goal against West Brom last season, the free-kick. I had been taking 15 or 20 a day with Stephen Purches and to have it come off was good. Along with that was the timing of the goal, after it we could breathe a bit knowing we were safe and could go again in the Premier League the next year.
I was always going to shoot, the boys wanted me to cross it, I’d had two in that game where I’d hit the wall but I felt confident. Free-kicks around the box I usually take, this year Diego has come in and he has a good left foot, but last year it was me and Charlie Daniels who would stand around it.
I’ve seen Franno getting near it before, him thinking I’m going to set him the ball for a shot – but I don’t think he’s ever scored! Why would I do that?
I like the feeling when everyone is watching you. I like taking penalties too, I like that the pressure is on me and I have to score.
Talk about your free-kicks, because you’ve scored a few of them…
Not really! I haven’t scored too many, but since working with Purchy I always feel when I’m step-ping up that there’s a real possibility that I could score – before that I thought I maybe could but I hadn’t done the groundwork day in, day out.
How would you describe yourself away from football?
You could have given me a heads up on that one! Just normal, really. I’m a dad of two so I like doing things with them. It’s hard work, it was even more when they were younger, but now they’re a bit more mature so I can do more with them and their behaviour is a bit better so I can sleep a lot more.
I have twins, Alex and Jacob. Alex is football everything, Jacob is more about technology: iPads, computers, which I don’t like him in front of too much, but he likes what he likes.
You went to Disney World in the summer, did they enjoy that?
You know how that started, I messed up the flights! We stayed at a hotel the night before, the kids were buzzing, then we went to the airport the next morning. First they asked if I’d done the visa, I’d forgotten but I could do that there and then. Then the passports were out of date and every-one was looking at me, I took the brunt of it.
I had to get it sorted but we were still able to go, though it took a week. I take everything smoothly so I was okay but the rest of the family didn’t take it so well.
The kids were going on holiday one minute, then they weren’t, there were a few tears, we were back down to Bournemouth while we sorted the passports.
I was in the bad books until we got out there, Disney World was something I never got to do when I was younger but experiencing it and seeing the kids and their faces and having a good time, it was an opportunity to step back and see the results of what you do.
Finally, why are you Junior, and not Felix?
When I was born my dad wanted me to be called Felix, like him, so I’m Felix Junior, but my mum didn’t really like the name so she’s always called me Junior and that name’s just stuck. If I ever hear Felix it goes over my head, I don’t particularly like the name either.