Jermaine Pennant, worth €15, was arsenal’s hopeful and A CL finalist with Liverpool. But the downsides prevailed.
“MX7232,” says Jermaine Pennant as if shot from the gun. His prisoner number of that time he “of course” still has ready, he explains to the Guardian“I don’t think I ever forget that. Prison has changed me. But not many people go through that and then play in a Champions League final.”
Actually, these few sentences are enough to tell us that the now 36-year-old Englishman has experienced everything in his football life, was allowed to see all the highs, but also all the depths. Pennantot’s story is not the classic of the early cheer, which then crashed continuously. Rather, it’s a crazy rollercoaster ride.
Even Pennant’s youth is extremely difficult. He grew up in Nottingham, in the middle of England, in the problem area of The Meadows. When he was three years old, his mother was suddenly gone, supposedly deceased – only much later pennant was to learn that this was not true at all, he was only fooled. Why? ‘The story I’ve been told is that my grandma – my mother’s mother – didn’t want her to have a brown baby. So my father raised me on my own,” Pennant told the New! Magazine.
“My dad asked, “Do you have a bit of money?””
He had no bond with his mother anyway, but never did particularly well with his stepmothers. Nevertheless, he was always lacking a female reference person – especially since his father could not offer him a stable life. Pennant senior was drugged, first from a pub, then from home. He became addicted himself, went to prison and, after his release, succumbed again to the lure of drugs.
“I remember a birthday, I think it was my 14th,” Pennant writes in his 2018 autobiography. “I got a few cards from my grandmother and a few other family members. A total of about 40 pounds came together and my father asked, ‘Do you have a bit of money?’ I said I got something for my birthday and he just said, ‘Okay, give it to me, you’ll get it back’. I knew why he wanted it. And I knew I would never get the money back because he was addicted to the stuff.”
Jermaine Pennant: Shots fired in front of kFC
For years, his father was addicted to drugs, even when Pennantot’s football career began. Today he is obviously clean – and Jermaine has made his peace with him. “We get along well now. He was at my wedding, it was an emotional day. He has acknowledged that he made mistakes and apologises.”
Without a sheltered home, Pennant, even in his teenage years, fell into shady circles, and had many gang shootings on the streets of Nottingham. When he is 14, the attack of a rival gang from another part of the city in front of a KFC store becomes particularly tricky. “As they ran past, they stabbed one of us with knives and beat another with a baseball bat, a few shots were fired. I was lucky. If I had been outside, I could have been stabbed.”
Pennant hid behind the KFC cash register, the boys from his gang pursued the attackers, beat one of them hospitalized, and in the hospital he succumbed to his injuries. Two days later, the police rang Pennant’s door, he had to testify, he too was suspected of murder.
Three million euros transfer – for a 15-year-old
“Being questioned by the police was worse than hearing gunshots. I knew I would go to jail for a long time if they were to kill me. But All I could tell the police was what I knew – and that wasn’t much.’
Pennant was always clear that football was probably his only way to escape the crime and hopelessness around him. He had something, a talent that kept him, at least mentally, far enough from slipping into that scene.
At 15, just a year after the police crushed him in a murder case, Pennant was in the spotlight for the first time. Arsenal put the equivalent of three million euros on the table to bring the offensive talent from their youth club Notts County to London. In 1999, an even more incomprehensible sum for a 15-year-old than it would be today.
Jermaine Pennant: Hate love with Arsenal and Wenger
And Pennant finds his way right away at the Gunners. At the age of 16 he already makes his debut for the pros in the League Cup, at 18 he is in the squad for the first time in the Champions League. He is regarded as the greatest talent in England, as the new Michael Owen – but it doesn’t go on as fast as thought. It is only at 19 that Pennant is finally allowed to play in the Premier League for the first time, and at 20 he is still miles away from regular appearances. Arsene Wenger, Arsenal’s coaching legend, was apparently not entirely convinced of Pennant, especially his attitude. A kind of love of hate developed.
“Of all the coaches I played under, Arsene had the greatest influence. Through him, I learned how to do it in the professional business. But he never really gave me a chance. It was frustrating. But Arsene is very strict. And if your attitude isn’t right, it doesn’t give you that chance,” Pennant told the Guardian. Guardian. But then came 7 May 2003, the day that supposedly changed everything.
“I still felt the vodka in my stomach”
Against Southampton, Pennant was in Arsenal’s starting eleven for the first time in the Premier League, scoring a hat-trick in just ten minutes in a 6-1 victory. Curious: The night before, believing he wasn’t playing anyway, he moved around the houses until six o’clock. “I couldn’t believe it when I discovered my name in the starting line-up. I was still so tired and gave everything i could not to embarrass myself. I felt incredibly uncomfortable and still felt the vodka in my stomach,” he revealed in an interview with FourFourTwo.
Once again he was suddenly on everyone’s mouth, suddenly part of the legendary Gunners team around Thierry Henry or Patrick Vieira, who a year later was to go down in history as “The Invincibles”. ‘I thought that was the starting gun and I was going to be big at Arsenal. But it never got that far and I gradually lost interest. I thought, ‘That doesn’t go anywhere anyway.'”
Early 2005: Alcohol drive to the streetlamp
For the 2003–04 season, Pennant was loaned to Leeds United, where things went well, he played a lot. However, he failed to make his breakthrough at Arsenal after that, and was loaned out again at the beginning of 2005, this time to Birmingham City. And because the frustration over the lack of success on the field was growing, Pennant did stupid things outside of it. He drove drunk, lost his driver’s license, repeated it shortly afterwards and also raced his Mercedes against a lamppost. In March 2005, Pennant was sentenced to three months in prison, one month of which he served.
The career seemed to be in tatbs before it had even really picked up speed. But Pennant, still only 22, flourished at Birmingham the following season. Arsenal had sold him there for a whopping 750,000 euros, but no longer believed in him. But Pennant prevailed, became a regular at Birmingham – and joined Liverpool in the summer of 2006, just over a year after his time in prison, for nine million euros.