Q&A with Jerel Ifil
In the latest of Steven Fyfe’s Q&As, former Town defender Jerel Ifil was kind enough to discuss at length his time at the County Ground, including losing 7-1 and compares relegation under Iffy Onuora and promotions with Dennis Wise…
This week I got to catch up with one of the longest-serving players during my time supporting Town. Seven years (including loan spells), over two hundred games and five goals later, Jerel “Beast” Ifil was of the first players I paid to have printed on my old blue away kit.
After three loan spells did you know you’d end up at Town and were we the only club you’d want to leave Watford for?
“Yes. After having such a good time here on three occasions I signed a three-year-deal at Watford, so I was very much a part of [Gianluca] Vialli and Ray Wilkins’ plan, so much so that they told me the following season they were going to build the defence around me. Then the club got into financial trouble and sacked the management and they hired the reserve team manager at the time (Ray Lewington) and slashed his budget.
“Wycombe came in for me when Tony Adams was manager but I didn’t want to drop that low so I said I’d only leave if Swindon bought me so Watford took less money so I could come to Swindon.”
You were part of promotion-chasing squads and relegated squads but how do you look back at your Town days?
“At the time you think that’s the nature of football but the truth is you learn that success is a concoction of positive things while relegation is the opposite. When we got relegated we were not fit, we were disjointed as a squad.Tactically we had no idea on the style of football we were trying to play not to mention the club had off-the-field issues. So the mix was never going to breed success.
“For promotion on the other hand. The squad was unified, we were all fit, we all knew the style of football we were trying to play, the club was becoming stable and most of all we practised the basics almost everyday and you know what they say about tactics…”
How frustrated were you personally with inconsistency over first season or so – You got a lot of blame for goals conceded and number of red cards?
“I was very frustrated. Having just left a Championship club and to then be on your way to League Two a season later is a bitter pill to swallow, but I learnt a lot about myself that year. If you are going to improve anything in your life, the first place you have got to look is at yourself not place blame elsewhere.”
“So I began identifying issues with me. In that relegation year I had my son and lived in Watford so trying to balance those was a struggle. This then meant I didn’t do extra training and I was rushing home to avoid M4 and M25 traffic. I took the days off we were given, sometimes three a week (which is too much if you’re in a relegation battle) and did nothing to improve myself as a footballer. I was immature and hot headed which resulted in a lot of emotional reactions on the pitch, this led to me getting a poor reputation with referees which didn’t help my case.
“My realisation came in church on a Sunday morning. When I came to the realisation that I couldn’t and shouldn’t be disappointed with my position in life if I haven’t tried my best to be the best footballer I can be. Regardless of the management and their weaknesses you can only effect what you’re in control of.
“So I began doing my best and the results were obvious. Promotion the following season and players’ player [award] from my team mates. Now it wasn’t just me so like I said in a previous comment the concoction was positive in all areas, positive management and guidance led to a motivated squad who would break through walls for their managers and each other.”
Your first town goal was my first away game at Palace. How was that feeling?
“It was long overdue. To be fair it was OK but I never worried about scoring. I was a defender first and foremost and all defenders should pride themselves on clean sheets but if I score and we win 1-0 its a bonus.”
Although you didn’t get to play you did receive a call up to St Lucia. How did that feel?
“It was really good to be recognised for your talent and possibly play in some world cup qualifiers, but it turns out they do things quite slow over there and it didn’t clear in time.”
Danny Wilson made you captain for a period. How was that?
“A kick in the teeth to be honest as I felt it was going to be more than just a short period but I was proud to represent the town as captain.”
The 7-1against Forest you described at time as the “lowest point”, does that still hold true?
“Yes lol!! But lows make you appreciate the highs and it moulds you into a mature person and player.”
Who in your opinion was the best player(s) you played with at Town?
“James Milner, after Super Sammy Parkin”.
How different was it in the SPL and how was your time with Aberdeen?
“The SPL was fun and a great experience. The levels varied week to week from Celtic to Inverness. It was hard to get used to but I still pride myself of being a team that had the second best defence in the league until Christmas then the management did strange things! That’s all I can say about that Lol.”
And your time with Bristol Rovers?
“Pointless to be honest. Dave Penny got sacked soon after I got there and the dressing room was poor due to poor attitude and loss of confidence.”
I recall you playing in a charity game with Phil (Ifil – Jerel’s brother). Do you wish you got chance to play pro together? Maybe at Town?
“We did at Kettering and despite all that went on there the dressing room was quality. It was a shame Imran ladak and George Rolls were despicable people who abused their position”.
Can you pick out any career highlights?
“Scoring against Walsall on the last day of the season, getting promoted and the players’ player award were great achievements for me.”
What are you up to these days?
“I’m a qualified teacher and personal trainer now. I have set up a company with my business partner called iprovefit which helps children, young adults and adults with learning difficulties and behavioural difficulties to find some direction and we provide courses to either get into work or back to mainstream school so they can become a positive member of society.
“We are a course provider now and just recently moved our base to Swindon, so we provide education and mentor them with bespoke plans to help them respect themselves, build confidence and respect people around them.”
I would like to thank Mr Ifil for answering all of my questions so openly, honestly and in detail. You can find out more about his company by visiting their website or you can find him on Facebook.