Ahead of City’s 0-0 draw against Chelsea in the Emirates FA Cup, Jamal Lewis spoke to OTBC about once giving up football, dealing with setbacks and much more. You can read it in full here.
There have been a whole host of success stories to come out of the Norwich City Academy over the past few decades.
Justin Fashanu went on to make over 400 professional appearances during the 1980s and 1990s. Craig Bellamy left City and played for the likes of Newcastle United, Liverpool and Manchester City. Chris Sutton helped City eliminate Bayern Munich from the UEFA Cup in 1993. Darren Eadie was an England Under-21 international, whereas Robert Green went on to represent England at a World Cup. More recently, Jacob Murphy moved to Premier League Newcastle.
Many others can be added to that select group, such is the success that the Academy has had in producing top-level footballers. Is Jamal Lewis set to be added to that list in the coming years? If he continues the remarkable development which has seen him rise from Under-23s full-back to first-team regular in the space of 12 months, who knows what the youngster can achieve.
Lewis’ journey began at St. Martin’s Football Club down in Luton, coached by his father. It was clear from around five years of age that he had something special.
“I got scouted by Luton Town when I was eight-years-old and then I was just an Academy player until I was 14/15,” he says. “I took a year break from football to do athletics because Luton wasn’t as enjoyable for me at that time.”
Taking a break was a wise decision made by a young footballer with an unquestionable love for the game. He needed time away from the rigours of the sport; time to decide which particular route he wanted to go down. Then, out of nowhere, Norwich City came calling.
“got invited down by [former Head of Academy Recruitment] Gregg Broughton to come and have a trial at Norwich as a scholar and I impressed and we went from there. The call seemed completely out of the blue. I got it around March and they basically asked me to come down for next season’s pre-season training so I had a couple of months to prepare and get sharper.
“I had a few kick-abouts and played a few school games during the break but there was nothing really competitive in that time. I never fell out of love with football – there were just a few things going on in my life, I was trying to get some good grades and trying to find my feet in other things. I just decided taking a break was the best decision for me. It was only for about eight months and I was doing lots of athletics to keep fit.”
Since joining City as a first-year scholar, Lewis – who qualifies to play for Northern Ireland through his mother – has never looked back. Progression has followed through the Under-18s and then into the Under-23s and, after being called up to train with the first-team at the end of last season, the 19-year-old sometimes has to take a breath and reflect on his meteoric rise.
“I definitely have to pinch myself sometimes but the opportunities and chances I’m getting are things I knew were always going to happen. I just try to take them in my stride. I just want to be a consistent left-back for the team and help us get results. I want to play as many games as possible and keep winning games.”
Lewis’ inclusion in the first-team setup began during the tail-end of last season. After the departure of Martin Olsson to Swansea City in January and on-loan Mitchell Dijks being the only left-back in the senior fold, Lewis was required to step up and join in with training. As the season drew to a close, the uncertainty around who was going to be in charge of the team meant Lewis was none the wiser about where he would be needed when the 2017-18 campaign got underway.
“It was a weird first day back in pre-season. I didn’t really know who I was going to be training with because I had trained with the first-team for the last six months or so of last season. Stuart Webber was there and he pushed me forward to show the new boss what I could do and we just went from there.
“I impressed and showed that I was hungry and the boss liked it. He put me in the changing room and said that I was a first-team member from pre-season onwards.”
Everything was looking rosy for the youngster as he looked certain for significant involvement in Daniel Farke’s first-team for the season ahead. But a huge blow occurred in training as City were preparing for their penultimate pre-season friendly against Charlton Athletic. A knee injury which had affected Lewis in the past flared up yet again and it meant his wait for a competitive first-team bow would continue.
“Pre-season was very hard but that was my first first-team pre-season so regardless, it was going to be hard. I’ve got a lot of football mates from other teams and they all told me how hard pre-season is.
“It was to be expected but what I liked with the boss’s was it was mostly ball work. There wasn’t lots of running for the sake of it – it’s about making sure your mind is switched on for a long duration of time and making sure you can handle that.
“In the four years I’ve been at Norwich, I’ve had three knee injuries. Every time I made progress, an injury would come along and hit me and set me back. I just had to tell myself: ‘Every time I’ve gone through an injury, I’ve come back fitter, faster and stronger.’ It was a bad moment for me but my family, friends and I took it in our stride. The staff here helped me recover and come back fitter and to be ready to take the opportunity I’ve got now.
“You don’t want to be used to getting injured but because all three injuries have been the same mechanism in my knee, I knew how to approach it and deal with it. I knew how to push and when to back off. It was a learning curve and I’m just so happy to be back.”
Lewis made his return to action as a second-half substitute in the defeat to Brentford before Christmas and he’s since started both victories over Birmingham City on Boxing Day and Millwall on New Year’s Day, as well as the draw against Chelsea in front of a live TV audience broadcast around the world.
“It’s why we play football,” Lewis said ahead of the game. “They are the reigning Premier League champions; they have quality throughout their squad. It doesn’t matter whether they play their first-team or rotate, their team will always be strong no matter what. You see them play week-in and week-out and absolutely outplay teams. It’ll great game for me to be involved in.
“Every game is an opportunity to show what we can do, no matter if you’re playing in front of 100 people or 25,000 at Carrow Road on TV. You have to treat every game as a final.”
You can subscribe to OTBC and receive a copy of every programme through your letterbox with a half-season subscription for just £58! Subscribe HERE.