Jermain Jackman emerges from the Emirates Stadium tunnel and looks out on to the pitch.
The season has just ended and for a brief window, the hallowed turf is used from dawn until dusk for small-sided matches, as community groups and club partners and staff get the rare chance to tread in the footsteps of their heroes.
Jermain’s gaze is drawn to a young player in one of the community department games. "I went to college with that guy," he laughs and almost immediately his friend runs over: "Proud of you bro, so proud." The pair embrace before the friend returns to his match and Jermain continues his VIP tour of the stadium.
Jermain’s victory in the BBC talent contest The Voice was an obvious source of pride for everyone who knew the hugely-talented young singer. But by the same token, if you were already aware of Jermain Jackman prior to him bursting on to our TV screens, there would also have been an immense sense of pride in how Jermain has made it his mission over his teenage years to enrich his local community and beyond through mentorship and being part of youth parliament.
Ambitions to one day dedicate his life to serving "the people" are revealed in no uncertain terms by Jermain’s assertion that one day he wants to be "Great Britain’s first black Prime Minister."
Before leading his country however, Jermain has set his course to be a leading light in the UK music scene, following his stunning Voice win in front of 8.3 million viewers, when he was mentored by Will.I.Am. But in between the studio sessions, TV appearances and red carpet appointments, Jermain will always find time to monitor the progress of his beloved Arsenal.
Spending much of his childhood just a stone’s throw from Emirates Stadium in Finsbury Park, the 19-year-old was always likely to be a Gunner, though in an exclusive interview for the Arsenal Magazine, he begins by revealing his parents’ loyalties had to be studiously ignored and his siblings’ Gunners’ faith embraced.
Firstly Jermain, you grew up pretty close to Islington. Is Arsenal in the family?
Yep, I grew up in Hackney and then Finsbury Park. My dad was a Liverpool supporter actually and my mum’s a Manchester United fan, but my brothers and my sister all supported Arsenal. And so I grew up around the Arsenal environment, watched them play all the time and I became an Arsenal fan.
"In the playground at school I pretended to be Thierry Henry. Everyone wanted to be him"
In Hackney you are also in Tottenham and West Ham territory...
Yes, but we moved to Finsbury Park and I’ve been living there ever since. The reason why I didn’t want to support Tottenham was like, "Who supports Tottenham? Who wants to support Tottenham?!"
Did you get down to see any games at Highbury and then the Emirates?
My dad took me to a couple of games and I enjoyed it. I remember being very cold in the stands! I remember the first time, being in my Arsenal shirt and all ready for the game and I was freezing cold, but I loved it. In the playground at school I pretended to be Thierry Henry. Everyone wanted to be him. I used to go to primary school half an hour early so I could play football before the school bell rang and we had to go to our lessons. I really do enjoy playing football.
We’ve heard you’re more of a goalkeeper though...
Yes I am, because of my height (6ft 3in) and my long arms and long legs! I can defend the goal. I didn’t play in the school team, because my height was more equipped for basketball and cricket so I drifted away from football in secondary school and college, but that never stopped me supporting Arsenal.
Last season was a good one for Arsenal with the FA Cup win...
It shows real good signs for the future. It shows improvement and that we’re still strong and if we didn’t get the injuries at the start of the season we would have finished higher than we did in the league. It just shows that over time we start to grow and get better and who knows what next season will bring. Maybe a Premier League title? I do think that if we hadn’t lost Ramsey, Ozil and Walcott for long periods in the second half of the season we would have won the title.
You’re very involved politically in Hackney – do you find it encouraging to see what football clubs do in terms of community work?
Yes, and I know Arsenal outreach into schools and into communities. I remember playing in primary school, Parkwood in Hackney, and seeing two volunteers from Arsenal who would always come to do after-school football. It’s making young people believe - and it’s a strong belief - that they can make it into Arsenal and make it into the football industry, and it really is a good thing because these young people need things to aspire to. When they see young players like Jack Wilshere on the pitch and footballers that have come from their walk of life it makes it all possible and believable for them.
That’s often the case with footballers, because a lot of them have come from working class backgrounds. Do you think they almost have a duty to be role models?
Definitely. For me growing up, footballers played a massive role in being role models. When we would start talking and say, “What do you want to be when you’re older?” nearly everyone would say footballer. I obviously wanted to be a singer, or in the music business, but we all had our dreams and there was a time when I was massively into football. I’d practice every weekend and my family would go to Finsbury Park and I used to play on the grass there and be in goal all the time and my dad was really excited about that and was going to push for that. But then I got into basketball and into cricket and then music...
"It just shows that over time we start to grow and get better and who knows what next season will bring"
Do you think there are similarities between football and the music industry, where a lot of singers have come from a similar sort of background?
I think there are similarities. You have artists that come from those backgrounds who are making things possible and making dreams come true and making young people believe that those dreams can come true. And young people are thinking, “You know what? I’m going to work hard to make sure I achieve it.”
There’s also the Arsenal Foundation, which raises a great deal of money for Save the Children, amongst other projects. Everyone knows about the money in football from the TV deals so do you think it’s important that clubs put something back?
Definitely. It’s important clubs put back into their communities because communities put so much into those clubs, by attending games, by supporting them from a young age throughout their entire lives. It’s nice for the clubs to finally put back in and Arsenal is a beacon for that. It’s very inspiring to see.
Our community department even has schemes for people who have suffered through torture in other countries...
Arsenal’s great at branching out, not just for young people who want to be footballers but for those who have come from torn backgrounds, from other countries, those seeking asylum, or young people who are in trouble at school. Arsenal provide support.
There’s also the Double Club that uses footballing resources to teach foreign languages or maths...
That’s what people don’t really see. They just see a football club and they need to see its charitable arm, the fact it goes out and shares its resources.
So now The Voice has been won, tell us what you’re up to?
So yes, I won The Voice and hopefully I’ll rub some of that lucky dust off at the Emirates! We are planning an album and hopefully that will be out towards the end of the year, and it’s going to be pretty intense - and fun, because I’ve never done anything like this in my life. It’s all new to me but I’m surrounded by a great team, a great family and a great church to keep me very well grounded and they’re there to support, encourage and advise me. With that I will do great things.
You’ve touched on the fact that you’ve done a lot of work with youth schemes.
I’ve done a lot with youth mentorship, youth parliament, youth politics, and that’s giving myself back. I’m sharing my time with young people – I’ve had young musicians come up to me who are struggling to make it in the music business, young people who are struggling with confidence and life skills, and I just spend time with them and mentor them, talk to them, and you meet some interesting young people, young people who have incredible stories that you cannot even imagine but don’t show it and have such great talents but don’t want to show that either. So it’s about unlocking those talents and making them believe that they’re worth something and bringing them out of their shell to achieve great things.
Is all that work going to continue alongside music?
Definitely. It takes a village to grow a child and when that child is a man it’s about giving back to that village. And just like the players of Arsenal I’m going to do the same thing: continue with that charitable work in my community.
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Is politics something you want to get into?
The papers keep talking about me being the first black Prime Minister. I’m going to 10 Downing Street today actually so will be getting used to my new home! I’ll take some measurements for what walls I’m going to knock down and where I’m going to put my bedroom! I’m joking but it’s about aiming high, and making people believe that no dream, no aim, no ambition is too high. That’s why I want to be the first singing black Prime Minister!
Back to singing - of sorts - did you see the Arsenal players singing ‘She Wore...’ on YouTube?
I loved it! Some of them didn’t seem to know the words, but it was amazing.
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain can just about hold a note...
You know, some of them were actually speaking rather than singing but it was good. I wasn’t judging - I’m not Simon Cowell, so I wasn’t judging them on their singing abilities. It was the spirit that counted! It was the fact they did it, and mixing music with football? That’s a wonderful thing. Who knows, I might be able to sing on the pitch one day. I’d love to - that would be amazing. Abide With Me is one of my favourite songs.
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