Matt Jarvis so happy to have lived his England dream

So much has transpired in the career of Matt Jarvis over the last ten years, but that will never dim the memory of one particular moment from a decade ago.

“Literally, if I think about it, I can still feel the emotion of it all,” he recalls.

“That tingle down my spine of getting the call from the bench, sprinting down the touchline to put my shirt on, heart pounding, and getting ready to go on the pitch.

“It was a dream come true, what every kid thinks about when they are little – amazing, and such an honour.”

It was ten years ago this Monday that England played Ghana in a friendly at Wembley.

And in coming off the bench to replace Jack Wilshere with 69 minutes on the clock, Jarvis became Wolves’ first full England international since Steve Bull collected his 13thand final cap against Poland, over 20 years previously.

Jarvis produced a few neat touches in front of a crowd of 80,102 featuring a particularly vociferous Ghanaian support, and also exchanged shirts with Asamoah Gyan, whose last gasp equaliser cancelled out a first half strike from Andy Carroll.

Unfortunately it was to prove Jarvis’s only cap, leaving him part of perhaps a frustrated and disappointed club which also features others with past and present Wolves links including John Richards, John Ruddy, Alan Sunderland, Brian Little, Jay Bothroyd and Mark Walters.

The quality of England’s wide players at the time, namely Theo Walcott, James Milner, Aaron Lennon, Stewart Downing and Ashley Young, blocked the potential route to more international honours, even though Jarvis continued to be a shining light for Wolves in the Premier League.

But a cap is a cap. He played for England. Three Lions on the shirt. And there aren’t too many who can say that.

“It does feel like yesterday in so many respects,” Jarvis continues.

“To be able to do it in a game at Wembley in front of such a big crowd, and with all my family and friends there, just made it extra special.

“At the same time, so much has happened since, that it feels a very long time ago as well!”

It certainly has, but fast forward on a decade, and Jarvis, now 34, is back going strong.

Turning out for Woking in the National League is keeping the competitive juices flowing, even though Jarvis knows - and is already thinking about - what might be around the corner over the coming years once his career comes to an end.

But for now, just being back playing football is sufficient, after such a lengthy and nightmarish spell of injury.

Having played so well, and so regularly, for both Wolves and Monday night’s opponents West Ham in the Premier League, an horrifically luckless run saw Jarvis, who also played in the top flight with Norwich, make just ten senior appearances across almost four years, those coming whilst on loan with Walsall.

Jarvis has spoken previously of how injury left him in pain every single day, suffering from seriously dark times mentally and often finding himself unable to see any light at the end of the tunnel.

“I used to go home, sit on the sofa and absolutely cry my eyes out,” he said, in relation to the countless days of heading into clubs for treatment while team-mates and coaching staff went about their daily business out on the training pitch.

For someone who would be described as the ultimate professional – it was usually a toss-up between Jarvis and Jody Craddock as to who arrived first at Wolves training ground in the mornings – who gave everything to football and lived his life in exactly the right way, those setbacks were understandably so difficult to take.

But what else could Jarvis do? Just stay professional, work as hard as he always did, and ultimately that has led to prolonging his career in the fifth tier of the English system with Woking.

In February of last year he came off the bench to make his debut against Maidenhead, and within four minutes had opened the scoring in a 2-0 win, following up with another appearance against Barnet, before the pandemic struck.

How’s your luck, eh?

“That summed it all up really,” says Jarvis.

“I scored on my debut, I was back playing football, and then the pandemic came and everything stopped.

“But obviously at the time, and since, there have been people going through far more than just not being able to play football so it was important to keep some perspective.

“I managed to tick along through lockdown and was ready for when the season was up and running and got back into the training, the team bonding and the games.

“That is what you miss when you are not involved and what you really want to do.

“It has been great for me at Woking – after the couple of years I had gone through with injury I was so determined to get back playing and just enjoying it again.

“The opportunity here proved the perfect combination, playing football, being able to spend more time with my family which I have really missed out on and giving me the chance to venture into doing some media work as well.”

Jarvis’s Woking bow arrived over 16 years on from his full league debut, a bit further across the southern part of the country with Gillingham, where he would make over a century of appearances after joining as a trainee.

His first ever goal for the Gills would leave Wolves green, an early winner in a Championship encounter which ultimately put paid to the tenure of Dave Jones.

Jarvis however was seemingly destined to end up at Molineux, to become part of a largely young and exciting squad which would return Wolves to the Premier League under Mick McCarthy six years after Jones had achieved the same feat.

There were many facets to that relatively low-cost team which first stabilised and then flourished in the Championship, but the sight of Jarvis and Michael Kightly bounding down the flanks with such drive, pace and unadulterated enthusiasm remains fresh in the memory.

Who can forget for example that first half demolition of Nottingham Forest in the early throes of the title-winning 2008/09 campaign, whether for Kightly’s exocet missile into the top corner or Jarvis’s devastatingly electric burst down the left which Chris Iwelumo somehow kept up with to tap home the resulting cross?

Wing wizards casting a spell on so many unsuspecting Championship full backs.

Heady days, and, for Jarvis, they set the tone for life in the Premier League where he was one of those who showed he could bridge the gap to the higher level, completing his own personal journey from League One right to the top.

“It was such an enjoyable time at Wolves,” he recalls.

“There were so many of us who were all a similar age, did a lot together socially and had partners who became friends, and on the pitch, were striving for the same thing,

“There were no big-time Charlies, no one who had been there and done it, except maybe Jody and we know what a great influence and character he was.

“Everyone was hungry, Mick always said that, it was such a big thing, to have that desire and ambition.

“Many of us had come through the lower leagues, myself, Kights, Wardy (Stephen Ward), Dave Edwards, George Elokobi - we had worked so hard to get where we were.

“You had to be quite mentally tough to come through all that, and that meant that when an opportunity came along, we were all desperate to take it.

“And on the pitch, we were fortunate that we had some very good players.

Matt Jarvis in Wolves action

“Kights was flying down the right, I was brought in to play on the left, and it just sort of worked!

“We had Sylvan (Ebanks-Blake) on fire, Lumes (Iwelumo), Vokesey (Sam Vokes) and (Andy) Keogh up front – so many attacking threats.

“Getting promoted was amazing, but then it was about proving ourselves in the Premier League, the opportunity we had all been waiting for.

“And I felt ready for the Premier League.

“It was a bit of the unknown, and I was coming up against some of the best full backs in the world, but I revelled in that, and trying to take them on.

“I loved it, playing at Molineux in front of full houses, and those big stadiums and perfect pitches were so well suited for my game.

“I remember since getting a mention in Peter Crouch’s book, about when we played Stoke, and I was up against Jonathan Woodgate, who got booked, gave away a penalty, and nearly got sent off.

“He didn’t like playing at right back and got taken off before half time, and said ‘cheers boss’ to Tony Pulis – I loved hearing things like that!

“Those were the challenges, taking on established Premier League players, that really spurred me on at the time.”

It had largely been an upward curve both for Jarvis and Wolves during his stint at Molineux but, as ever in football, with an air of Wolves-like inevitability, sadly it didn’t last.

As results declined, McCarthy was sacked, Jarvis recalling a “difficult and horrible day” as the moment arrived when the manager who had made so many careers, had to move on himself.

“When we were in the meeting when he told us the news we were all sat there in silence – just gutted,” he says.

Jarvis quickly had to reboot – he scored six goals in 12 games under interim boss and a coach he respected so much in Terry Connor – but, with Wolves relegated, the times they were a-changing.

After five years at Molineux, and just over 12 months on from gaining his first England cap, it was difficult to argue against Jarvis’s desire to try and remain in the Premier League, especially with Wolves embarking on a different path under Stale Solbakken.

It was a difficult spell behind the scenes with Kightly having departed, striker Steven Fletcher keen to get away and Jarvis also sensing that the time was right for a fresh challenge.

And that could have led to an unsavoury Molineux farewell for a player who was, in every sense, a manager’s dream to work with.

“I’d say there was a bit of general unrest at the club behind the scenes at that time, and a lot of changes,” Jarvis explains.

“It was with a heavy heart that I felt it was the right time to move on, but having played in the Premier League, and for England, I hope people understand why I decided to do it when the opportunity to stay in the top division came along.

“I never stopped working though, I came in for pre-season and did everything possible for Wolves and played in the first couple of games.

“Even though it dragged on for a while, and West Ham were making offers which were rejected, I didn’t do anything differently, and if I was a bit frustrated, I never let it show or affect my football.

“There was a time when West Ham were saying that was their last offer and it wasn’t clear whether Wolves were going to take it, and I felt a bit sorry for Stale at the time as he had just started the job and needed to know whether I was going to be sold and he could re-invest the money.

“I got on fine with Stale, it was just one of those things that happens in football, and finally the clubs came to an agreement and I made the move.

“Yes it was an opportunity to stay in the Premier League, with another big club, but I was still sad and gutted to leave as I loved my time at Wolves – it was unbelievable for me.

“I was there from the ages of 19 to 25 – it was the time of my life when I really grew up – and myself and my wife Sarah moved up here from the South and were in our own little bubble.

“That time spent living there and working under Mick and TC with other lads of a similar age, then winning the Championship and playing in the Premier League and for England, it was an incredible journey which I will always be extremely grateful for.”

The protracted deal, which while perhaps not ideal either for Jarvis, Solbakken or Wolves’ efforts to recover from relegation, did at least provide a healthy recompense for the loss of such a crucial player with the negotiating skills of CEO Jez Moxey securing a fee close to £11million when including add-ons.

It was, at the time, a club record for a Hammers team managed by Sam Allardyce, and came a couple of years after Jarvis had scored an excellent goal in a Wolves win at Upton Park.

“West Ham had just come up through the play-offs, and we went on to have a great first season back in the Premier League, finishing 10th,” Jarvis remembers of his move.

“I think the season I left Wolves and my first season at West Ham the stats showed I put in the most crosses in Europe and the most completed crosses so it was a really good time for me.

“West Ham is a huge club, and, being in London, with all the media interest, magnifies everything.

“I had a really good time there, and felt I did well.”

All in all Jarvis made 90 appearances for West Ham, notching six goals, added to the 175 for Wolves, featuring 21 goals.

Little wonder that he retains a soft spot for both of those clubs, and has been delighted with their relative success of recent seasons, as they prepare to face off on Monday night.

“West Ham are having a great season, they have done really well in the league, and David Moyes has got them playing in a good way with everyone knowing their roles and responsibilities,” says Jarvis.

“It all looks very positive moving forward which is great for the club.

“They really pushed on after last season when they just stayed up, recruitment has been good, and most of the players have stayed fit.

“They have been crying out for a season like this for a long time, to be knocking on the door of Europe, just like Wolves who achieved it last season.

“And when you look at Wolves this time around, the season has been more of a transition, and obviously the injury to Raul Jimenez was a huge loss.

“For them now I think it is about trying to build some momentum over the rest of the campaign and finishing as high as they can in the table.

Matt Jarvis with Sky

“Then it is about regrouping to go again next season, which I think has the potential to be far better.

“They will know more about different playing styles, players will know each other more and will improve again – (Pedro) Neto for example has been outstanding this season.

“Getting Jimenez back would be a major boost and then they will be another club who will be realistically looking at getting back into Europe.”

As Wolves have made such remarkable progress in recent years, Jarvis has found himself clinging on precariously to a few of the thoroughly deserved individual accolades garnered during his spell at Molineux.

He has already lost the Wolves’ record for Premier League assists – to Joao Moutinho – and then the honour of being the most recent from Molineux to have represented England, to skipper Conor Coady.

In terms of Premier League appearances, he still heads the chart on 108, but has Coady (104), Rui Patricio (104), Moutinho (103) and Ruben Neves (101) very much in sight in the rear view mirror!

“All the records are tumbling,” Jarvis says with a chuckle.

“I now know what it felt like for Steve Bull when I took over his mantle!

“For me it was a great achievement to play for England at the time because Wolves were still struggling to avoid relegation so to get called up was amazing.

“It is a completely different situation at the club now, and Conor has been outstanding.

“Yes he is a fantastic bloke but he deserves his chance because of how he has performed for Wolves both in the league and in Europe.

“So I am now fully over the disappointment of losing that status, and have already lost the assists one as Moutinho nicked that off me.

“All that is left now is the appearance record but that is going to disappear over the next few weeks – never mind!

“I clung on to them for a fair while, and to be honest I am just delighted to have played for Wolves at the top level and picked up those accolades.

“It was always the case that they would be broken one day, and I am fine with that.”

When you think back to those Premier League achievements, and representing his country, it was a special time for such a focused and yet humble talent.

The call-up had been long awaited, arriving just over 24 hours after notching a fine winning goal to secure Wolves’ first away win at Aston Villa for some 31 years, and came during a season when Jarvis cleaned up on Wolves’ Player of the Year awards.

The fact it was still slightly unexpected materialised in the fact that Jarvis had travelled back from Guildford to an answerphone message about the call-up, and also had to track his parents down to their favourite restaurant to break the news before it was announced publicly.

All these years on, for Jarvis to still be playing for Woking shows his love for the game and a humility in being more than happy to operate at non-league level.

There must still be a few full backs who do a double take when they turn up and find themselves up against a former England international, surely?

“It’s not been too bad at all,” Jarvis replies.

“I have actually come up against a few West Ham and Wolves fans who give me a few compliments which is nice!

“Don’t get me wrong, it works the other way as well, and some full backs really try and raise their game against me.

“I understand that, I have lived through it both ways, as I would be the same back in the day against top defenders.

“We come up against all different types of opposition and It is still just great to be able to get out there and enjoy my football.”

For how long Jarvis continues to enjoy his football and carry on playing is a question that starts to filter through to every player when they approach their mid-thirties, which he hits this May.

Preparation has, sensibly, already begun for whenever that day should arrive.

“I do have my coaching badges but at the moment I don’t think that is something I want to go straight into,” he reveals.

“I think if I started coaching once I retire, I would still be a frustrated player.

“I am really enjoying the media work I have been doing, and hopefully that is something I would be able to do more of.

“Still to be involved in football in some capacity would be great – it has ruled my entire life for 20 or more years so it is definitely something I don’t really want to walk away from.

“And being involved in media work would be very different to playing.

“I would still have more family time and not be ruled by football where you are told where you have to go, what you have to do, and plans can be changed at very short notice, throughout your career.

“I think Sarah is particularly looking forward to hopefully being able to go on holiday at a time apart from that six weeks from the middle of May to the end of June!”

Jarvis has certainly relished and appreciated every minute of his career so far.

With parents Nicky and Linda who were both number one ranked table tennis players, and older brother Ben also an excellent footballer, it is perhaps no surprise he has enjoyed the sporting success which he has.

He was also a fine table tennis player himself, as demonstrated to his England team-mates when joining up with the squad, and, just for good measure, was also a county champion in swimming and athletics.

Matt Jarvis with Sky

But it is also perhaps telling that the Jarvis’s have a plaque on show at their home featuring the phrase, ‘We interrupt this marriage to bring you the football season!’

For the record, he does also have plenty of football memorabilia on show, including a painting from former team-mate Craddock of him in that England shirt, ball in hand, based on a photograph taken at the game by Wolves’ photographer Sam Bagnall.

Jarvis has certainly relished a greater opportunity to spend time with Sarah, four-year-old son Leo, and daughter Ella, who recently turned one.

And plaque or no plaque, young Leo is already showing signs of following in Dad’s footsteps in terms of his love for the Beautiful Game!

“It is just over the last few months or so that Leo has got a little bit obsessed with football,” says Jarvis.

“If he watches any television programmes now, it’s not the normal children’s programmes, it’s football.

“He knows all about the players, he knows everything that is going on, and is out in the garden playing all the time.

“He’ll head out there and say ‘lunge’ and do a lunge and a little warm-up and then blow a whistle, and the game can start!”

Last weekend Woking lost 1-0 at Hereford in the semi-final of the FA Trophy thus denying a first trip to the final since 2006, when a certain Michael Kightly was part of the Grays Athletic opposition which won 2-0 in a game played at West Ham.

This year’s final would have been at Wembley, allowing Jarvis – who had been suffering from a niggle and was therefore an unused substitute in the semi-final having started the previous three games – only a second appearance at the national stadium a decade after his first.

Perhaps even more disappointing is that Leo, yet to see his Dad play, might have been able to join the Jarvis clan in the crowd with a number of fans potentially allowed to attend if the Covid exit roadmap goes to plan.

That setback probably raised a smile with Jarvis, who has had to become so used to handling those imposters of triumph and disaster during a career of almost 450 appearances including 47 goals.

His is a back story to be extremely proud of, and it shouldn’t prove too difficult to offer young Leo a flavour of just how far Dad has progressed in the game.

After all, there are photos, footage and memories from a night at Wembley ten years ago that will last for eternity.

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