Every matchday programme features an exclusive feature with one of our stars of the future. In a recent edition, young midfielder Jimi Gower told us about his famous footballing father, his journey to signing for the club and much more.
This may come as a surprise to you, but when your dad is a footballer, it’s pretty difficult to avoid having a ball at your feet!
People often say that football has always been a part of their lives, but when I tell you that’s the case for me, I’m really not exaggerating. Even as a baby, there’s photos of me just sitting on a football. I couldn’t walk or even kick it, but there I am, happy as anything with a football next to me.
Looking back, I can still remember when I first worked out that my dad [Mark Gower] didn’t have a ‘normal job’. When I was only three years old, we moved to Wales as a family because my dad had just joined Swansea City, and that was obviously a big change for all of us, even for me as a kid.
I’d be lying if I said that I can remember any specific league game from that time, but when I was around seven or eight, we went to the play-off final against Reading and that was a day I’ll never forget. Going up to Wembley on a coach with all of our friends and family was just brilliant. That was a really special time for Swansea under Brendan Rodgers and it’s pretty cool to know that my dad played such a key role in that side.
It was only really when Swansea got into the Premier League that I can remember some of dad’s games, otherwise anything before that is all a bit of a blur really. At that age, though, the coolest thing was collecting my dad as a Match Attax card and showing all my friends. Or picking him in a computer game for the very first time. I remember playing with my mates on career mode and we always used to sign my dad and try to get him to win the Champions League!
I started school along with everyone else in Wales and learnt a little bit of Welsh too, but halfway through year three we moved back to England and that was tough because I was playing for Swansea at the time and they wanted me to sign properly because I was eight. Obviously I couldn’t because I was moving, so I ended up joining a new school midway through year three, which is obviously pretty daunting and nerve-racking, and then I had to join a Sunday league team just to keep up my minutes.
That meant a lot of my surroundings and friends were all new to me, and at that age, it’s quite difficult to deal with, but I’ve always been quite an outgoing person and maybe that’s partly why! I’ve always enjoyed getting to know people.
Anyway, I eventually ended up moving to Southend, where my dad used to play, and once again that meant meeting more new people (again)! Walking around the place and seeing your dad’s shirt on the wall is pretty cool, and there were loads of little things that made me realise what my dad has achieved in his career.
I stayed with Southend for the next few years and usually played up through the age groups, until one day we had a game against Arsenal – and this is a pretty funny story. The game kicked off and within a couple minutes I’d fired one right into the top corner, it was an absolute beauty. We were all turning to each other and going ‘Oh my God! I can’t believe it! Are we going to beat Arsenal?!’ No, no we weren’t. We ended up getting absolutely battered 7-2 or something ridiculous like that, but I guess I did enough to get Arsenal’s attention.
They kept watching me for months and there were a few others interested too, but my dad knew just how good Arsenal’s academy is and he wanted to hold out for that offer – and that’s coming from a guy who supports Tottenham and spent all of his youth career there!
We spent a few months just waiting on the edge of our seats to find out the answer, but we eventually got the call and found out that Arsenal wanted me to join. I always had a feeling that it was going to happen, but obviously I had to keep my mouth shut and that was the hardest thing about it. It felt amazing to finally tell my friends and family that I’d be joining Arsenal.
This was the first time in my life that I was really able to settle down somewhere, but I think all those changes have made me the person that I am today. It’s made me the character that I am and I’m thankful for all those experiences.
Being able to really settle into life at Arsenal has been fantastic for my development. I made my debut for the under-18s at just 16 years of age last season against Reading and I marked it with a goal too. It was maybe the worst goal I’ve ever scored, but who cares? They all count, right?
A lot of the under-16s were playing that night and after the game all of us loaded up Twitter and Instagram and saw that all the Arsenal fan pages were posting about us. We were buzzing! That was crazy because it’s not like that at all at under-16 level, so it was a reminder that we’re growing up now and there’s going to be more eyes on us as we progress through the age groups.
I was really happy to score for the under-17s in the London Cup recently too, because it’s been difficult for me to get game time at under-18 level this season with so many talented second years.
That’s been frustrating for me because as a footballer you obviously always want to be playing, but this is the reality of academy football and this is when I’m really thankful that I have someone like my dad to speak to. We honestly text and talk every single day. Not only for advice and encouragement, but sometimes just to have a chat. He’s been through it all before, so I’m very fortunate to have him around!
As for this season, I want to make an impact for the under-18s and enjoy my football while doing it. If I’m not enjoying it, then what’s the point? That’s something I’ve always told myself and tried to reflect in the way that I play too.
Copyright 2023 The Arsenal Football Club plc. Permission to use quotations from this article is granted subject to appropriate credit being given to www.arsenal.com as the source.